EATONTON, Ga. — Shortly after Ricky Dubose was taken into custody by authorities in Rutherford County, Tennessee last June for the murders of two Georgia corrections officers during an escape from a prison transport bus in Putnam County, the accused killer confessed that he shot both lawmen to death.
A videotaped confession made by Dubose played during a hearing before Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Alison T. Burleson Wednesday morning in Putnam County Superior Court in Eatonton.
Burleson will have to decide whether or not to allow the confession into evidence — something defense attorneys don't want to happen. She plans to make a ruling regarding the matter next Thursday when Dubose is scheduled for additional motion hearings.
During the videotaped confession, which lasted a little more than an hour, Dubose admitted he fatally shot Sgt. Curtis Billue and Sgt. Christopher “Chris” Monica June 13 during a daylight escape from the state prison bus. The escape happened a few miles outside Eatonton along Ga. Route 16.
FBI Special Agent Nathan Opie testified Wednesday that he and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Zackary Burkhart interviewed Dubose shortly after he was booked into the Rutherford County Jail on June 15.
Dubose confessed that the fatal shooting of the officers and escape wasn’t something that had been planned out.
“It was a spur of the moment thing,” Dubose told authorities during the initial interview that followed his recapture.
Dubose said he merely took advantage of an opportunity when he discovered that the gate that separates the guards from the inmates on the prison transport bus was unlocked.
During the interview, Dubose admitted he shot both officers, first, Sgt. Monica, and then Sgt. Billue.
Billue was driving the bus at the time, while Monica was seated across from him in a passenger seat.
Dubose told authorities during the interview that Monica was asleep at the time of the shooting and escape.
Dubose said he and Rowe were seated close to the front of the bus after they boarded it on the morning of June 13, 2017.
The defendant also admitted that because the handcuffs on him, Rowe, and several other inmates onboard the bus that day weren’t double-locked, it was easy for him to help get them out of them. He estimated that he removed the handcuffs of between 10 to 15 other inmates that morning. None of those inmates reportedly tried to escape, though, and later all of them were accounted for by state corrections officials.
“They (handcuffs) were not double-locked,” Dubose told Opie and Burkhart. “I took about 10 to 15 people’s handcuffs off that day.”
During the same interview, Dubose, covered by a green-colored blanket, appeared comfortable talking about the details of the crimes.
Dubose said on the recording that the officer in the passenger’s seat was asleep.
“I’m going to be honest with y’all, the gate was open,” Dubose said. “It was supposed to be locked.”
Dubose said he “shot the white dude” first.
“I shot him in the head,” Dubose said, without any sort of emotion in his voice.
Dubose said he then shot the bus driver.
The shootings were committed with the officers’ own state-issued 9 mm pistols. Both officers were shot multiple times.
Dubose said he and Rowe later carjacked a man in a green Honda Accord. He said he and Rowe changed clothes and then drove to Morgan County where they stole a truck from a business and drove across state lines into Tennessee.
The escapees later committed a home invasion of a couple who lived in Bedford County, Tennessee, stealing their car before they were later spotted by deputies.
Dubose admitted he got into the backseat of the car and began shooting at deputies and even tried to shoot the tires out of nearby cars and trucks in hopes they would wreck and cause havoc for authorities chasing them.
Neither of the guards was wearing a gun holster or bulletproof vest, both policy violations, according to an internal investigation conducted by officials with the Georgia Department of Corrections after the escape.
Opie, who works out of the Memphis, Tenn. division, but specifically the Nashfield field office of the FBI, was one of two witnesses called to testify Wednesday on behalf of the prosecution team led by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley, along with Chief Assistant District Attorney Allison Mauldin, and Assistant District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale.
Mauldin led all questioning of the state’s witnesses during the hearing.
Opie, who is assigned to the Violent Crime Squad, was initially asked by Mauldin how he became involved in what turned out to be a nationwide manhunt for Dubose and Rowe.
“We were told to head to the Rutherford County area in response to the fugitive manhunt from Georgia,” Opie said, noting such information was relayed to him about 7 p.m. June 15.
Opie said he saw Dubose for the first time while he was inside the booking area — the main portion of the jail.
Mauldin asked Opie to describe the suspect’s appearance at the time.
Opie said Dubose was standing and interacting with the different administrators at the jail.
He said he and Burkhart later interviewed Dubose in a 10 by 12-foot room.
“Was it ever determined who was going to interview Mr. Dubose,” Mauldin asked.
The FBI agent said, yes.
“Sometime during that booking process, or even before … I got a call from another guy who is on our squad team, Special Agent Sterling Wall, who I believe had responded to the scene and was now headed to the sheriff’s office,” Opie said.
The FBI agent referred to the scene as the place where Dubose and Rowe surrendered to a resident in Rutherford County before he was turned over to local, state and federal law enforcement authorities who converged after Dubose fired shots at deputies along a busy interstate highway.
“He (Wall) called me and told me he had been in contact with [Putnam County] Sheriff Howard Sills, the sheriff of the county where all of this had begun, and that he wanted FBI agents to be involved in the interview,” Opie said.
Mauldin then had Opie positively identify the defendant seated in the courtroom Wednesday as the person he interviewed June 15 at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office.
Opie identified Dubose by the clothing he wore for his latest court appearance. He was clad in tan-colored pants, and a light blue collared shirt. Dubose sat beside his defense attorneys, Gabrielle Pittman and Nathaniel Studelska.
Mauldin had indicated that the prosecution was willing to play a portion of the interview, but that the prosecution team would leave that up to the defense team as to whether or not they wanted to watch the entire interview.
Studelska immediately asked Burleson to allow for the entire interview to be played out.
Prior to the interview taking place with Dubose, Opie said he had talked with jail staff about getting Dubose some food and water.
Opie also explained that before the interview began he Wall met with Burkhart and another TBI agent named Luke Webb.
“The four of us sat in a room and discussed how the interview was going to go because we were walking into a situation where we knew very little about the case,” Opie said.
The agent said Wall later called Sills and was able to get some other information that was helpful to them during interviews with Dubose and Rowe.
“Also at that point in time, we watched a video of what transpired on the bus,” Opie said, referring to the state prison bus where the officers met their deaths.
Mauldin asked Opie if he ever heard anyone threaten Dubose in any way.
“No,” Opie said.
“Or say anything that would induce the fear or injury if he were not to speak with you,” Mauldin asked.
Again, Opie, replied, “No.”
The FBI agent also said he never heard anyone offer Dubose any benefit if he chose to talk with them about what happened.
Opie said Dubose had injured his right wrist and noted that he cradled it during the course of the interview and that he signed his Miranda warning waiver with his left hand instead of his right hand.
Opie said Dubose told him a nurse had looked at his hand and that it was not broken, and that they couldn’t do anything for him — “something along those lines.”
Opie said he and Burkhart informed Dubose that what had happened had become a national news story and some of the details had become public, but they wanted to get his side of the story.
Opie said he and Burkhart identified themselves and showed Dubose their law enforcement credentials.
“Was he handcuffed at that time,” Mauldin asked.
Opie replied he believed so.
Burkhalt later removed the handcuffs from Dubose in order to make him comfortable.
At one point, Opie reportedly indicated he was going to be a little afraid after the interview was over because he felt he would be mistreated since he had fired a weapon at deputies earlier that day.
“I assured him that that wasn’t going to happen, No. 1 because deputies wouldn’t do that, and No. 2 because it’s a national news story, and I didn't think it would be a wise move for anyone to mistreat Mr. Dubose,” Opie said. “I tried to put his mind at ease on that.”