Originally created 03/15/05

Woman was star on court



A decade before Ashley Smith gained national attention for talking down accused courtroom killer Brian Nichols, she was known locally for sinking three-pointers and layups.

The 26-year-old, formerly known as Ashley Copeland, was a starter on the girls basketball teams at Augusta Christian School and Lakeside High School in the mid-90s.

A high school friend and former Lakeside teammate, Sarah Lightner, said she was surprised to find out that the woman she knew years ago was the same one held hostage by Mr. Nichols.

"I didn't connect all the dots until this morning, but I'm definitely glad everything worked out," Ms. Lightner said Monday.

She says she remembers Mrs. Smith, two years her senior, as a "typical teenager."

"She was definitely a leader on the team," Ms. Lightner said. "A good role model, a very hard worker. She was very dedicated."

Mrs. Smith played point guard for Augusta Christian in 1992, 1993 and 1994 before switching to Lakeside's team. During the 1993 season, she was the lead scorer for Augusta Christian, and in 1996 she received an honorable mention for the Georgia High School Association All-Area Girl's Team.

Her abilities earned her an athletic scholarship to Augusta College, but she left school after only a few months and married Mack Smith.

Mrs. Smith was raised in a strong religious home and used her faith to talk Mr. Nichols down, but her past also has been clouded by some clashes with the law. As a teenager she was charged with shoplifting and put on probation for a year. Later she had other charges in Columbia County, including DUI and battery.

Recently, though, friends say her life was turning around. Mrs. Smith had completed six months of a medical assistant course and had moved into an apartment in Duluth.

"I hope that you will respect my need to rest," she said at a Monday night news conference in Columbia County, "and to focus my immediate attention on helping the legal authorities proceed with their various investigations."

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.