Why in the world did we allow only one deputy to escort a dangerous prisoner even if he is handcuffed and/or shackled?

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Updated: 6:20 p.m. ET Oct. 5, 2005
ATLANTA - The man accused of killing four people during a rampage that started in a courthouse herded people into an office before the shootings, held a gun to a deputy’s head and declared, “I got nothing to lose,” a witness told investigators.

The account was among 33 witness statements obtained by The Associated Press that sheriff’s investigators had culled from people in the courthouse March 11 when Brian Nichols allegedly went on the shooting spree. A judge unsealed the statements Monday, but they were not released to the AP until Wednesday.

“Man, why you doing this?” Sgt. Grantley White told investigators he asked Nichols. “You know, everything is going to be all right. Why you doing this?”

Apparently worried the deputy might reach for his gun, Nichols responded, according to White, “Don’t do it, Sarge. I got nothing to lose. I got nothing to lose.”

Afterward, Nichols allegedly entered the courtroom where his rape trial was to resume later that day and fatally shot the presiding judge, Rowland Barnes, and a court reporter.

Confusion reigned
Several witness statements show confusion in the courthouse as the shootings took place.

A deputy told investigators he encountered a man fitting Nichols’ description in a hallway after a judge and court reporter were shot.

“I stopped the individual,” Sgt. Vincent Owens said. “I said, ‘Is everything OK? Is anything wrong?”’

Owens said the man put up his hands and mumbled he didn’t know anything. Owens said he let the man go. He found out later that the man was likely Nichols.

Nichols also is accused of killing a sheriff’s deputy who chased him and, that night, a federal agent. He was captured the next day after police said he took a woman hostage in an Atlanta suburb. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. No trial date has been set.

Tighter security
Security has been tightened at the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta since the shootings, and several investigations and security reviews have been launched. In August, eight deputies were fired over the shootings. White and Owens were not among those fired.

Two days before the shootings, metal shanks were found in Nichols’ shoes. Despite that, Nichols’ handcuffs were removed just before he allegedly overpowered a deputy guarding him, grabbed her gun and went on the spree.

In one of the previously sealed witness statements released Wednesday, Nichols’ lawyer in the rape trial, Barry Hazen, told investigators that after the shanks were found, Barnes requested extra security measures in the courtroom for when the verdict in Nichols’ rape trial would be announced. The jury had not yet reached a verdict in the case.

“Judge Barnes thought that there was the possibility for an outburst if the jury returned a guilty verdict,” Hazen said. “Among the precautions were to remove from the courtroom area where Mr. Nichols was anything that could be used as a projectile.”