EATONTON, Ga. — The murder trial of a state prison inmate accused of shooting to death two corrections officers during an escape from a transport bus on June 13, 2017, in Putnam County, will not be going to trial next month as originally scheduled, The Union-Recorder has learned.
A continuance was granted Friday afternoon by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Alison T. Burleson in Putnam County Superior Court in the case of the State of Georgia vs. Ricky Allen Dubose.
The defendant is accused of killing Georgia Department of Corrections Sgt. Curtis Billue and Sgt. Christopher Monica while they were transporting more than 30 inmates by bus from Baldwin and Hancock state prisons to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center near Jackson. The victims were shot multiple times with their state-issued handguns before the two prisoners escaped. The escape led to a nationwide manhunt that ended three days later when they surrendered to local, state and federal authorities in Rutherford County, Tennessee.
Dubose, along with co-defendant Donnie Rowe, is charged with malice murder, felony murder, escape, and hijacking of a motor vehicle. They were both indicted by a grand jury on the charges on Sept. 19, 2017.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley announced shortly after they were returned from Tennessee that the state would seek the death penalty against both men.
It also was decided that Dubose and Rowe would be tried separately.
Dubose’s trial had been set for Sept. 30, with jury selection taking place in Glynn County. Once a jury was chosen there, the plan was to take the jurors to Putnam County where they would listen to the testimony and evidence about the case before deciding the fate of the defendant.
Now that the trial has been continued, Dubose is not likely to go to trial until sometime in early 2020. A trial date has yet to be determined, however.
Dubose’s lead defense attorney, Gabrielle Amber Pittman, and co-counsel, Nathanial L. Studelska of the Office of Georgia Capital Defender, filed a motion Tuesday in the Putnam County Superior Court Clerk’s Office for a continuance.
The motion, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper, sought the continuance based on allowing the defense team adequate time to investigate and prepare for trial.
During Friday afternoon’s hearing before Burleson, Pittman contended that it takes on average in Georgia 24 months to go to trial in a death penalty case.
“We’re at less than half of that,” Pittman said, noting that the volume of what has yet to be done in preparing to go to trial continues to mount. “At this time, we cannot be ready for trial.”
Pittman said there are too many inadequacies.
The defense attorney said the case file consists of more than 20,000 pages of documentary evidence, not including videos and photographs.
Additionally, Pittman said the investigation was spread across at least five, possibly six states.
In preparing for trial thus far, Pittman said there have been numerous issues that have arisen.
Pittman said she and her co-counsel were asking for more time to prepare for trial so their client would have adequate and constitutional counsel.
“He (Dubose) will not have constitutional and adequate counsel for trial in September,” Pittman said.
In the motion seeking a continuance, defense attorneys contend that Dubose is raising issues about his intellectual disability and that because of such fact, even greater care must be taken on his behalf.
“The United States Supreme Court found that the Eighth Amendment prohibits execution of persons who are deemed mentally retarded, currently called intellectually disabled, thus giving Mr. Dubose protections under both the Georgia Constitution and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution to be free from execution. The danger that intellectually disabled persons may be subject to execution is evidenced by the fact that no defendant facing the death penalty in Georgia has ever received a GBMR verdict for malice murder from a jury in the statute’s nearly 30-year existence.”
After summarizing her argument, Bradley explained the state’s position.
Bradley said the state had attempted to avoid this in every way.
The veteran prosecutor pointed out that the state had regularly inquired with the defense counsel as to whether they planned to present a mental health defense.
“I draw the court’s attention to the facts, dates of the discovery that they gave us Tuesday of this week,” Bradley said. “It’s facts of Sept. 27, 2017, judge. This is going on two years ago. It’s one thing to say that I wish I had a different answer, or I need another answer, but to say I haven’t had any answer in two-plus years seems either disingenuous or either it’s profoundly incompetent or it’s intentional dilatory.”
Bradley told the judge he didn’t think they were incompetent.
“This is a trial; the state has the burden,” Bradley said. “We have been ready for more than a year to try this case.”
He said it was disrespectful to the court and to the families of the victims.
Denise Monica, the widow of Sgt. Monica was seen crying in the courtroom when she learned that the Dubose would not go forward this year.
Bradley said what the prosecution team had attempted to guard against was exactly what has occurred.
Bradley said it was evident early on that Dubose needed to undergo a mental evaluation.
“The reason he needed to be evaluated was it was evident, there were at least some questions that needed to answered for both of us (prosecution and defense teams),” Bradley said. “Not only did the defense object then, they have yet to say let’s start that process over again.”
The next question, judge, is what is the next best step, Bradley asked.
The district attorney suggested that Burleson enter an order for a mental evaluation of the defendant by a state agency. He also recommended that the court order the release of Dubose’s school and juvenile records because they now are “very important.”
Bradley said if the court believed there were grounds for a continuance that the court should go in that direction.
Burleson later said she would attend a Superior Court judges’ conference next week and she plans to talk with the chief judge of the circuit that oversees Glynn County about the latest developments in the Dubose case as far as jury selection is concerned. She said she also planned to talk with the Glynn County Superior Court clerk as well.
“Based on what I know that I’ve heard from the defense in ex parte, and what I know the state is going to have to do to prepare their side of things, knowing what I know is coming in ex parte, I’m not sure that 30 days would be meaningful for either side.”
Burleson also expressed curiosity about how a continuance might affect the Rowe trial that is set for Oct. 28 before Judge Brenda H. Trammell.
Bradley told the judge that regardless of the outcome, in either case, the state will be ready to go forward with the prosecution of the defendants when the time comes.
He added that he thought the defense team should have been ready to go to trial by now with the Dubose case.
“And they shouldn’t have waited as long as they did to raise the issues they have,” Bradley said.
Pittman told Burleson that the state had no right to question what they were doing or why they were doing it when they did it.
The prosecutor said his preference was to start the case at the end of January.
Pittman is involved in another death penalty trial that is slated for early January in Fulton County Superior Court.