ATLANTA (AP) – The suspect in last month’s courthouse rampage was able to enter the slain judge’s chambers and hold the occupants hostage because the door was unlocked and a buzzer entry system was not activated, a sheriff’s report said.

It also said the suspect had explained weapons found in his shoes days before the attack by saying they were for arch support.

A portion of the report on the March 11 attack, in which a judge and three other people were killed, was released Thursday. The bulk of the report remains sealed, including 33 witness statements that prosecutors and the suspect’s attorneys argued should not be released.

The attorneys argued in court Friday that release of the statements would jeopardize suspect Brian Nichols’ right to a fair trial and prejudice the grand jury pool. Nichols has not been charged.

Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller said he would rule early next week on whether to release the rest of the report. He also took under advisement a defense request for a gag order on attorneys, law enforcement and any potential witnesses in the case.

The released material in the report said Nichols handcuffed a lawyer, deputy and other people in the judge’s chambers, then entered the courtroom and killed Judge Rowland Barnes and his court reporter.

“We understand there was a practice of the door being left open,” Michael Cooke, chief deputy of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department, said at a news conference.

The report also says that it took a court officer 21 minutes to reach the deputy whom Nichols allegedly overpowered to steal her gun and start the killing spree.

Outside the courthouse, a sheriff’s deputy was killed, and a federal agent was killed elsewhere before Nichols was taken into custody the day after the rampage.

Despite the report, Cooke said, “There was no lapse in response time. Period.”

The 15 released pages of the report include a timeline of the attack, an incident narrative and an executive summary. A media lawyer, Peter Canfield, argued in court Friday that the entire report should be released because it is a court record prepared by the sheriff to analyze courthouse security.

The sheriff’s department, responsible for security at the courthouse, has been widely criticized for its handling of Nichols, who was unshackled even though the homemade knives in his shoes had been found two days before the attack.

The report says after the knives were found March 9, Nichols told officials that he was “using the contraband for arch support in his shoes” and wrote a statement to that effect.

In response, the jail staff issued an incident report and forwarded it through the chain of command, but “took no further action” because “Nichols had posed no serious threat and had exhibited no other signs which might lead to trouble.”

Nichols was in the courthouse because a retrial on a rape charge against him was resuming later that day. He is being held without bail on that charge.

A major unresolved question since the attack has been why only one person was guarding Nichols at the courthouse. Cooke said the sheriff’s department policy is to allow one deputy to escort up to four inmates at once. He said that policy was followed, and that Deputy Cynthia Hall, who was overpowered and seriously injured, had escorted Nichols safely on other occasions.

Hall, 51, is still recovering from the attack, which left her with a bruise on her brain and bone fractures around her right eye. She remembers nothing of the attack and was recently told about the deaths that followed Nichols’ escape.

“She feels that a lot of the folks that work at the sheriff’s office are part of her community,” her doctor, Dr. Gerald Bilsky, told The Associated Press on Thursday. “She feels bad about what happened. She knows she was guarding someone on trial.”

“She is looking forward to going home; she wants to get back to a normal life,” Bilsky said.


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