Revenge on system cited as motive for rampage Nichols saw himself as 'soldier on a mission' By BETH WARREN The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 03/15/05 Brian G. Nichols considered himself a "soldier on a mission" the day he terrorized a courthouse and a city with a gun, according to a law enforcement official who witnessed Nichols' first statement to authorities. The official said Nichols, who was being tried in a rape case when Friday's deadly shooting spree occurred, considered himself a wrongly accused man in a legal system unfair to African-Americans. After his capture Saturday afternoon, Nichols gave a three-hour statement to local, federal and state law enforcement agents at FBI headquarters in DeKalb County. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the official said Nichols described how he had been stewing in jail while awaiting retrial on charges that he held his ex-girlfriend hostage and sexually assaulted her. The first jury couldn't agree and the judge declared a mistrial. Nichols said he was angry that many of the inmates around him were also black and he wondered how many were innocent. "He called it systematic slavery," the law enforcement official said. Nichols didn't feel he was mistreated by deputies at the jail or courthouse, the official said. But he also didn't care that the deputies he would soon hurt were black. His anger was focused more on the legal system than race. And the main target was Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, who was preparing to resume hearing Nichols' rape trial. Just before 9 a.m. Friday, Nichols was transported from the Fulton County Jail to a holding area of the Fulton County Justice Center Tower, a new addition to the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta. He told officials he felt like a "soldier" when he slammed sheriff's Deputy Cynthia Hall to the concrete floor of a courthouse holding cell. After knocking Hall unconscious, Nichols told authorities, he strolled across a skybridge to the older part of the courthouse complex to find Barnes, who was in his courtroom hearing a civil case. Nichols said he first headed to Barnes' chambers, where he herded four hostages before entering the courtroom. He opened a private door behind Barnes' bench, approached the judge and fired, he told investigators. Nichols said the attack wasn't personal. In fact, he told authorities he thought Barnes had been fair to him during court proceedings. Julie Ann Brandau, the judge's court reporter, stood up to check on Barnes, and Nichols said he shot her in the head before making his escape, the law enforcement official said. As Nichols ran from the courthouse, he turned and fired at Deputy Hoyt Teasley, who was pursuing him across Martin Luther King Drive, the official recounted. Teasley died of his wounds. Nichols said his flight took him to a downtown Atlanta garage where he carjacked Journal-Constitution reporter Don O'Briant. Nichols told police he struck O'Briant, whom he called "a civilian casualty," because the reporter used a racial slur. O'Briant said Nichols pistol-whipped him because he refused orders to get in the trunk. "The only other thing I said besides 'No' is 'Please,' " O'Briant said Monday. "When someone has a gun pointed at you, the last thing you're going to do is taunt them. All I was trying to do was get away." Nichols eventually made his way by public transit to Lenox Road, where he found another carjacking victim, U.S. customs agent David Wilhelm, who was working on his house. Nichols told police Wilhelm identified himself as a federal agent, which prompted him to kill the man. The account witnessed by the law enforcement official is similar to what Nichols told his last hostage, Ashley Smith, 26. But Smith said Nichols told her he didn't want to kill Wilhelm but had to when the agent fought back. Nichols, who is in Fulton County custody, is expected to appear today before a magistrate for a brief hearing. A judge will explain that he is being held without bond on the pending rape charges. Murder charges in the shooting spree are expected but not today, according to Erik Friedly, a spokesman for the Fulton County district attorney's office.