CAIRO, Ga. — Testimony in the death penalty murder trial of Donnie Russell Rowe Jr. could begin next week in Putnam County Superior Court in Eatonton.
Qualifying prospective jurors continued Wednesday morning in Grady County Superior Court where members of the prosecution team, along with defense attorneys questioned prospective jurors.
As of Wednesday morning, 47 prospective jurors had been qualified, according to Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale Jr.
The district attorney said 57 prospective jurors had to be qualified before attorneys can begin the process of striking jurors. A 12-person jury and five alternates will be selected from the qualified group of prospective jurors.
Jury selection is now in its third week there in Grady County.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda H. Trammell, who will preside over the jury trial once it begins, is also overseeing jury selection in Grady County. Once a 12-person jury and five alternates are selected, they will then pack up and board a rented bus that will take them from Grady County to Putnam County where they will be sequestered for the duration of the trial.
Once a jury is selected to hear the testimony and facts of the case, it would then become the responsibility of jurors to decide the innocence or guilt of the defendant. If found guilty those same jurors will decide whether he should be a given a life sentence in prison or be executed by the state.
Rowe and co-defendant, Ricky Dubose, are each accused of shooting to death Georgia Department of Corrections Sgt. Curtis Billue and Sgt. Christopher Monica aboard a state prison transfer bus on June 13, 2017.
Authorities said the corrections officers were shot with their own state-issued 9mm handguns.
The double-murder case of the veteran corrections officers, both of whom worked out of Baldwin State Prison and lived in Baldwin County, happened on Ga. Route 16, between Long Shoals Road and Eatonon.
After the fatal shootings of Billue and Monica, Rowe and Dubose escaped from the bus. A nationwide manhunt was launched by local, state and federal law enforcement authorities, which was led by Putnam County Sheriff Howard R. Sills. The two escapees are accused of stealing a pickup truck in Morgan County and then driving to Tennessee where they continued a crime spree, including reportedly having committed a home invasion where they threatened the lives of an elderly couple.
Rowe and Dubose reportedly stole the couple’s SUV and later became involved in shooting at deputy sheriff’s in Rutherford County before they subsequently surrendered to authorities at a nearby residence.
Trial testimony in the Rowe case could last up to three weeks, Barksdale said.
Dubose, meanwhile, will not stand trial for the murders of the state corrections officers until sometime next year. Jurors in that case will be selected from Glynn County in Brunswick and be sequestered like jurors in the Rowe trial. That trial will also be held in Putnam County Superior Court in Eatonton.