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Gunman kills judge in Atlanta courthouse

A man on trial for rape grabbed a deputy's gun and opened fire inside an Atlanta courthouse yesterday, killing a judge and two other people before escaping and triggering a manhunt across several states.

Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and a court reporter died from gunshot wounds in the shooting at Fulton County Courthouse, said Georgia Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor.

A Fulton County deputy sheriff also was killed and another wounded, police said. The deputy who lost her gun was in critical condition but expected to survive, said a doctor at Grady Hospital.

The suspect, identified by police as Brian Nichols, 33, gunned down a second deputy outside the building and then carjacked at least one vehicle.

Tow truck driver Deronta Franklin was parked near the court in downtown Atlanta when a man he identified as Nichols opened the door and pointed a gun at him. "He was calm and cool," Mr Franklin said. "He said 'Get out of the truck'."

Authorities in Georgia and neighbouring states launched a manhunt for Nichols, appealing to the public to report any sightings and a $10,000 (£5,100) reward was offered for information leading to his capture.

The shooting occurred less than two weeks after the husband and mother of a federal judge in Chicago were shot to death, raising further questions about the security of the nation's judicial officials.

Investigators believe Nichols was able to get a gun by overpowering the deputy who was escorting him into court. It was not clear whether Nichols was handcuffed or in shackles at the time. The gunman then proceeded into the court, where he held those inside hostage and shot the judge and court stenographer, Dreher said.

Nichols was on trial for rape, assault and false imprisonment.(Reuters)