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macon.com MIDDAY UPDATE: Atlanta's 1-year growth estimated at 20,000-plus; Atlanta courthouse shooting trial begins; Southeast drought eases only slightly

The U.S. Census Bureau says the population of the city of Atlanta now exceeds half a million.

Figures released Thursday estimate that Atlanta's population grew by more than 20,000 between July 1, 2006, and July 1, 2007. That put the city's population at 519,145.

Official figures from the 2000 census gave Atlanta's population as 416,474, which would mean the city grew by more than 100,000 residents over a seven-year period.

On the other hand, the census estimates that Columbus lost nearly 4,800 people from 2006 to 2007. The latest estimate puts the population of the west Georgia city at 187,046. The Census Bureau says that loss was the second-greatest among U.S. cities for the one-year period. Cleveland lost more than 5,000 residents during that time.

– Associated Press

Atlanta courthouse shooting trial begins

The man accused of a courthouse shooting rampage that left four people dead pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity as his trial began Thursday, more than three years after prosecutors say Brian Nichols confessed in the killings.

Defense attorney Henderson Hill entered the plea for Nichols a day after filing a motion claiming that Nichols was insane and couldn't tell "right from wrong" during the killings.

Even Nichols' defense team has conceded he killed a judge, court reporter and sheriff's deputy at the county courthouse in downtown Atlanta on March 11, 2005, and a federal agent later that day.

But the trial has faced a series of complications that have alternately astonished and outraged a community trying to close the books on the shootings that turned Fulton County's seat of justice into a crime scene.

Lawmakers outraged at a state-funded defense bill of at least $1.8 million have threatened to cut more funding. Nichols has been accused of plotting an escape. Defense attorneys claim a prosecutor committed crimes of her own. And the district attorney sued the presiding judge, who later stepped down.

New Judge James Bodiford has vowed to keep the case on track, and he rebuffed an attempt by Nichols' attorneys Thursday to delay the case further. He also instructed the legal teams on the arduous process of selecting 12 impartial jurors from a pool of hundreds of county residents.

– Associated Press

Southeast drought eases only slightly

Recent rains have only slightly eased drought conditions covering the Carolinas and Georgia.

A U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday found there are still exceptional drought conditions - the most severe category - centered near Greenville. Severe drought conditions eased slightly, scaling back in the eastern half of North Carolina.

Otherwise conditions were largely unchanged from a July 1 report, and a drought still covers most of the three states.

An early season heat wave and a lack of rain in June had worsened conditions that have gripped the Southeast for much of the last year. The Drought Monitor report assesses conditions up through Tuesday morning and does not include additional rain that has fallen in the past few days.

– Associated Press

WHAT'S COMING UP ON MACON.COM

– Columnist Ed Grisamore will tell you about a group of women who call themselves the "Golden Girls." They get together for a long weekend in North Carolina every July. Ed will tell you about the diverse group that has worked to keep friendships going.

– . The Bibb County school board is expected to approve a budget spending resolution for August, which means its 2009 fiscal budget may not be complete and approved this month. We'll tell you more about the resolution and its effects.

VISIT US AGAIN SOON

We invite you to check out our Web site again tomorrow for the Midday Update. Monday through Friday, Online Editor Beth MacFadyen will bring you timely information about what Telegraph staffers are working on, plus news we think you need to know immediately. Send feedback to bmacfadyen@macon.com

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