Death penalty trial date set in slaying of 2 Ga. COs

Donnie Rowe and Ricky Dubose are charged with killing COs Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue while escaping from a prison bus in 2017


By Joe Kovac Jr.
The Macon Telegraph

MADISON, Ga. — The manhunt spanned hundreds of miles. Lookouts were posted nationwide.

For more than 48 hours, cops across the Southeast scrambled to track down a pair of escaped convicts wanted for gunning down two guards in a brazen getaway from a Georgia prison bus one June morning three years ago.

Sgts. Christopher Monica (left) and Curtis Billue.
Sgts. Christopher Monica (left) and Curtis Billue. (Photos/ODMP.org)

After two days on the run, the escapees — Donnie “Whiskey” Rowe and Ricky “Juvie” Dubose — were caught in middle Tennessee.

It was there they had allegedly stolen automobiles, broken into a house and held an elderly couple hostage, and later, in a climactic police chase, opened fire on sheriff’s deputies.

Days later they were returned to Georgia where they now face death-penalty prosecutions. Such trials involve two parts: a “guilt-or-innocence” stage followed, if necessary, by a penalty phase.

The latter stage will likely be where lawyers for Rowe and Dubose focus their efforts.

That’s because of strong evidence the authorities are thought to possess, some of which came from the transport bus that had been ferrying the men between prisons in the dawn hours of June 13, 2017.

That evidence, footage from a bus security camera that is said to have recorded the harrowing episode, presents a largely insurmountable obstacle for the accused men’s defense.

‘Elaborate, detailed accounts’

Other evidence includes eyewitness accounts from inmates on the prison bus who saw Dubose and Rowe allegedly bust through a metal gate and attack the driver and watchman up front.

Both corrections officers were shot dead with an unsecured .40-caliber Glock pistol that belonged to the guards as the bus passed through the Putnam County countryside. Dubose and Rowe then made their getaway by allegedly commandeering at gunpoint a car whose driver happened by.

More potentially damning evidence includes videotaped statements the accused men are said to have made to investigators upon capture.

“Elaborate, detailed accounts,” Putnam Sheriff Howard Sills said recently of the statements, “where they admitted the crimes.”

The men’s attorneys and prosecutors have prepared for trial over the past three years, and the case against Rowe had been set for jury selection in late July.

A change-of-venue plan involved travel to the southwest Georgia town of Cairo to select a jury and then to have the chosen jurors bused to Putnam County for the trial. The coronavirus pandemic, however, scuttled that.

‘The interesting twist’

Now the aim is to begin jury-selection proceedings in Rowe’s case in Cairo on March 1 with a trial in Putnam’s county seat of Eatonton immediately thereafter.

Despite long odds of overcoming the prosecutions’ accusations in the trial portion of the pending proceedings, there are legal strategies that lawyers for Rowe and Dubose may employ to spare their clients lethal injection should their clients be condemned in the penalty phase of the case.

Often in death-penalty cases with the deck so stacked against a defendant, lawyers focus on the penalty phase to present reasons their clients should not be executed — be it a defendant’s diminished mental capacity, harsh upbringing or other factors.

Rowe’s attorneys may contend that Rowe, in escaping the transport bus, had no intention of killing corrections Sgts. Curtis Billue and Chris Monica.

“This is not a case in which the goal in the trial phase is an acquittal,” Rowe’s lead attorney, Franklin J. Hogue, recently told The Telegraph. “However, here’s the interesting twist that could make it a little more of a conversation among jurors.”

Mounting a defense

Two of the counts against Rowe include malice murder. Such charges allege that a killer had the specific intent to cause a death. However, felony murder, which is also alleged, means some committing a felony — in this case the alleged escape and other accompanying serious charges — but with no intention to cause anyone’s death.

A felony-murder verdict for Rowe, who is already serving life without parole for armed robbery and other crimes and who investigators have said was not the shooter, could benefit him. It might engender leniency from jurors in the penalty phase, where the decision of whether to send a convicted killer to death row is made.

On the other hand, jurors could decide that taking part in the escape could well lead to brutal violence.

Dubose’s lawyers, meanwhile, have hinted that they may seek a diminished-mental-capacities defense when he goes to trial, but a date has not been set in his case.

Stephen A. Bradley, Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney, who has helped build the cases against Dubose and Rowe will not prosecute them. He was earlier this year elected as a judge in the circuit, a position he will move into at the first of the year, and must recuse himself.

“We have a number of times said that we will be prepared (for trial) at any point,” Bradley said recently of the prosecution’s view of the cases, “and hope that it will be tried soon for the families and all concerned.”

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©2020 The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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