The single mother who calmed Atlanta fugitive Brian Nichols as she was held hostage by the man charged with four murders and a rape, persuaded him to turn her loose and called 911 leading to his arrest has so far only been awarded $10,000 of $60,000 set aside as reward money for information leading to his capture.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue yesterday announced Ashley Smith would get the state’s contribution to the bounty – $10,000 – but the FBI, sheriff’s association and U.S. Marshall’s office have still not announced who, if anyone, will get their contributions to the fund.
“In my opinion, she absolutely deserves it,” said Perdue.
Nichols, who was facing a rape trial, is charged with shooting dead a judge, a court reporter and a deputy leading to his escape from a downtown Atlanta courthouse Friday. He is also accused of killing a federal Customs agent that night as he eluded authorities in the largest manhunt in the history of the state.
Nichols was caught the next day after taking Smith hostage in her suburban apartment for seven hours. Smith, a widow, told police she spent all night talking to Nichols, cooked him breakfast and read to him from the Bible before he let her leave unharmed.
She called police and told them Nichols was at her apartment. He surrendered after police arrived.
Following the slayings, the state offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Nichols’ arrest, the FBI $20,000, the U.S. Marshals Service $25,000 and the Georgia Sheriff’s Association $5,000.
The FBI and the sheriffs association said they had not yet decided who would get the reward money. The marshals service did not return calls.
Perdue urged the other agencies to reward Smith.
“She did what we ask people to do,” he said. “Reward money is incentive for people to give us information to apprehend criminals. I can’t think of a more classic case where it occurred than in this situation.”
Smith’s cool demeanor is being credited with her survival after Nichols, armed with several weapons, appeared behind her as she opened her apartment door at 2 a.m. Saturday.
“My husband died four years ago, and I told him if he hurt me, my little girl wouldn’t have a mommy or daddy, and she was expecting me the next morning and if he didn’t let me go, she’d be really upset,” Smith said during a news conference held Sunday. “Most of my time was spent talking to this man about my life and my experiences.”
Smith calmed the alleged killer by reading an excerpt from “The Purpose-Driven Life” and talking with him about God. She escaped by persuading him to let her pick up her daughter from an AWANA children’s program at a Southern Baptist church.
“I asked him if I could read,” Smith, 26, said in recounting the ordeal to reporters outside her attorney’s office March 13. “He said, ‘What do you want to read?’
“‘Well, I have a book in my room,’” she said. “So I went and got it. I got my Bible, and I got a book called ‘The Purpose-Driven Life.’ I turned it to the chapter that I was on that day. It was chapter 33. And I started to read the first paragraph of it. After I read it, he said, ‘Stop. Will you read it again?’
“So I read it again to him,” Smith said.
On Day 33 of the book, author Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist pastor in California, writes, “We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige, and position. If you can demand service from others, you’ve arrived. In our self-serving culture with its me-first mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept.”
Nichols, 33, held Smith at gunpoint outside her apartment around 2:30 a.m. March 12, apparently having chosen her at random as she returned from a trip to a nearby store. Once he removed his hat, she recognized him as the man wanted for the killing spree and chose to cooperate with his demands. He tied her up and then began to converse with her.
Smith asked Nichols not to kill her because she was scheduled to pick up her 5-year-old daughter the next morning. Four years ago, Smith’s husband died in her arms after being stabbed in a knife fight, and Smith was concerned that her daughter would become an orphan.
As time passed during the early morning hours at the apartment, Nichols and Smith talked about God, family and life experiences while the fugitive apparently became more comfortable with the hostage. She began to help the gunman consider the families of the victims he had shot that day and asked him if he thought about how they might be feeling.
“After we began to talk, he said he thought that I was an angel sent from God and that I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ and that he was lost and God led him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot of people,” Smith told reporters. “And the families – the people – to let him know how they felt because I had gone through it myself.”
Nichols held photographs of Smith’s family in his hands and said repeatedly that he did not want to hurt anyone else.
“He said, ‘Can I stay here for a few days? I just want to eat some real food and watch some TV and sleep and just do normal things that normal people do,’” Smith said.
As they continued to talk, Nichols mentioned that he considered his life to be over.
“He needed hope for his life. He told me that he was already dead,” Smith told reporters. “He said, ‘Look at me. Look at my eyes. I am already dead.’ And I said, ‘You are not dead. You are standing right in front of me. If you want to die, you can. It’s your choice.’
“But after I started to read to him, he saw – I guess he saw my faith and what I really believed in. And I told him I was a child of God and that I wanted to do God’s will. I guess he began to want to. That’s what I think,” she said.
When he was hungry, Smith made pancakes for Nichols and they talked more about God.
“I said, ‘Do you believe in miracles? Because if you don’t believe in miracles – you are here for a reason. You’re here in my apartment for some reason. You got out of that courthouse with police everywhere, and you don’t think that’s a miracle? You don’t think you’re supposed to be sitting right here in front of me listening to me tell you, you know, your reason here?’
“I said, ‘You know, your miracle could be that you need to – you need to be caught for this,’” Smith continued. “‘You need to go to prison and you need to share the Word of God with them, with all the prisoners there.’”
By 9:30 a.m., Nichols agreed to let Smith leave to pick up her daughter. When she reached the first stop sign on her route, Smith dialed 911 and within minutes a Gwinnett County police SWAT team had surrounded the apartment with Nichols inside, according to the Journal-Constitution. Nichols waved a white piece of cloth to signal his surrender and was taken into custody.
“I believe God brought him to my door so he couldn’t hurt anyone else,” Smith said.
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