EATONTON, Ga. — The lead defense attorney in the upcoming death penalty murder trial of Donnie Rowe requested Tuesday that the trial be moved to Grady County since that is where the jury will be drawn.
Franklin Hogue, of Macon, made the request during a pre-trial motion hearing before Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda H. Trammell in Putnam County Superior Court.
Hogue told the court the defense team was waiving a statutory right for their client to have the jury sequestered during the duration of the trial and argued he didn’t see any way of getting a dispersed jury in Putnam County.
“We have moved to disperse the jury — not only do we not want to insist upon our statutory right to sequestration, but we want jury dispersement,” Hogue said. “By that, what we mean is we want the jury to be able to live as free people and to come and go as they please,” foregoing specific instructions by the court during the trial.
Hogue contends that a defendant in a capital case has a statutory right to waive jury sequestration.
“It’s all tendered on the particular bad or evil results that can come from jury sequestration,” Hogue said.
He cited several reasons for seeking jury sequestration for his client’s jury trial, which is set for early January 2020.
“You can have a jury rush to judgment because they want to end burdensome limits” that sequestration could have on them, the prominent Macon attorney said.
Another reason is the possibility of jurors’ retaliation, where jurors blame the defense for their physical and emotional discomforts.
“Three, you could have jurors performing neat and sympathetic bonds with one another,” Hogue said.
He explained not that such is necessarily bad but that it can result in a growing inability for jurors to deliberate in a way they might have had they not gotten to know somebody’s children, grandchildren, and other stories that resonate sympathy and friendship among people, thus making it more difficult to express honest disagreements, particularly in the heat of jury deliberation.
Hogue also said that he anticipates during the jury selection process that prospective jurors would learn that this is a capital case that could last a long time.
He said he believes, based on that factor alone, that there would likely be several people attempting to offer excuses to get out of jury duty.
Hogue said if such happened, then they would end up with a non-representative pool of jurors.
Hogue said if the trial was held in Putnam County as previously ordered by Trammell, then it would be “practical sequestration.”
He said jurors would likely still have to stay in a hotel, be offered transportation together, and control who they can see and what they can see and read.
“Judge, I apologize, but I thought the court ruled we will choose the jury in Grady County and try the case in Putnam County,” said Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley. “Judge, if we’re talking about whether it’s going to be tried in Putnam County, I would remind the court the same as we’ve argued and discussed about the financial and logistical benefits of trying this case here for everybody involved, except the jurors.”
Trammell assured Bradley and everyone else in the courtroom Tuesday that Donnie Rowe’s trial will be held in Putnam County.
“I’m going to try the case in Putnam County,” Trammell said.
Rowe, who attended the hearing in prison clothing, is accused, along with co-defendant Ricky Dubose, of shooting to death two state corrections officers on June 13, 2017, in Putnam County. The shooting happened aboard a state prison transport bus.
The officers shot to death were Sgt. Curtis Billue and Sgt. Christopher Monica, both of whom worked in the transportation department of Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville and both of whom lived in Milledgeville.
Dubose will be tried separately in a case that will be heard by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Alison T. Burleson.