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Atlanta police cite errors in manhunt

Say suspect spent hours near mall

ATLANTA -- The city's embattled police department acknowledged yesterday that it made mistakes just after last week's deadly courthouse rampage, and the chief disclosed that the suspect spent as many as 12 hours undetected outside a busy mall.

Police Chief Richard Pennington said he will oversee a full review of his department's response to the attacks, communication problems between agencies, and their ill-fated focus on searching for a stolen car they believed suspect Brian Nichols was using to flee. The car later turned up in the same parking garage from where it was taken.

''We should have gone through the entire building," Pennington said at a news conference. ''We didn't, based on the information we had at the time."

Authorities say that when Nichols, 33, was in Fulton County Courthouse on March 11 for his rape retrial, he attacked a deputy, retrieved her gun from a lockbox, then killed a judge and a court reporter. Authorities say he later murdered a deputy and a federal agent before surrendering.

Pennington said after the news conference that Nichols eluded capture for so long because of his inconspicuous behavior. Pennington said Nichols hopped on a subway train shortly after the shootings and rode north about 7 miles, to the Lenox Square Mall stop. He was wearing a jacket he had allegedly stolen during the carjacking.

He apparently did not enter the mall, the chief said.

Nichols didn't surface until about 13 hours after the shooting, when officers received a report of a couple assaulted near the Lenox Square train station by a man matching Nichols's description.

The police chief said authorities were looking into whether the birth of Nichols's boy three days earlier had added to his stress from being jailed and on trial in a case where conviction could bring a life sentence.

Pennington said the sheriff's department is responsible for courthouse security.

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