Howard Sills

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills recently talked in depth with The Union-Recorder about the June 13 escape of two prison inmates from a bus in Putnam County and the subsequent shooting deaths of a pair of state corrections officers.

EATONTON, Ga. — The two inmates who escaped from a prison transport bus in Putnam County June 13 first attacked a pair of state corrections officers with their fists before they stole their guns and shot them to death, authorities say.

“This whole assault and both murders happened in a matter of five or six seconds,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said in a recent in-depth interview with The Union-Recorder. “As they (the inmates) approached the door, they go through the door, out, but I can’t tell you if it was locked or unlocked.”

Sills said he was unable to discern that from the video.

“But through that door, they immediately assault both officers and then there are several shots fired and each officer was shot multiple times,” Sills said.

The escapees, Donnie Rowe, 43, and Ricky Dubose, 24, who had been cellmates at Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville, are accused in the murders of Sgt. Curtis Billue, 58, and Sgt. Chris Monica, 42, both of Milledgeville and both of whom were assigned to duties at Baldwin State Prison.

Billue, a native of Wilkinson County, was driving the transport bus with 33 inmates on board at the time. The inmates were en route to the Georgia Diagnostic and Class Prison near Jackson when the escape ensued between Long Shoals and Texas Chapel roads in Putnam County about 6:45 a.m. June 13.

All of the inmates had previously been housed at Baldwin State Prison and Hancock State Prison near Sparta.

During a first appearance hearing before Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell last Wednesday, District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley said the case against Rowe and Dubose merits the death penalty.

The veteran sheriff said he was the first person to step onto the bus when he got to the scene.

Billue was found slumped over in the driver’s seat and Monica, meanwhile, was sitting in a front passenger seat of the bus.

“There was a bullet hole in one of the window panes of the door,” Sills recalled, noting the door had four window panes. “The top left pane of glass was kicked out.”

The two inmates, like all other inmates aboard the bus at the time, reportedly were shackled.

But Sills said the video, which has not been made public, shows one of the inmates kicking out the glass pane of the bus door.

“At least one of them didn’t have on leg irons because he kicked out that pane of glass,” Sills said, emphasizing he was merely making an assumption. “I don’t know how he gets them off, but he gets them off.”

In the video, now part of the evidence in the case against Rowe and Dubose, Sills said he was unable to see which one of the escapees actually kicked out the windowpane of the door.

“I’m not withholding that — I just can’t tell,” he pointed out.

Sills said he had not yet talked with anyone with the Georgia Department of Corrections about the protocol of how inmates are secured in transit because he simply had been too busy trying to apprehend Rowe and Dubose, who eluded local, state and federal authorities and initiated a nationwide manhunt.

“It doesn’t matter if they didn’t have on any handcuffs, if they had on balls and chains; it didn’t matter if there job was to pick watermelons and they didn’t have on nothing,” Sills said. “None of that matters with the crime of escape. The crime of escape is having been convicted and you willfully leave custody. So that’s immaterial. These individuals willfully left and they … sure didn’t have any right to kill these people, no matter if they left the door open or the gun laying there. They still didn’t have a right to kill them.”

The sliding door, which separated the corrections officers from the inmates, was not locked.

“It had to be unlocked,” Sills said. “I don’t know when it got unlocked. They (Rowe and Dubose) go up to it, and once again, I’m going to tell you something, 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005 — everybody is dead and they’re off the bus. It’s that quick.”

He said the quickness by which the three crimes happened wasn’t as incredible as some people might think.

“Contrary to what people think, I’ve watched men rob banks, walk teller lines and take every dime out of the teller drawers, go in the vault and get money, and leave in less than 20 seconds,” Sills said. “People don’t understand time until you’ve do what I just did.”

What the two inmates did on the bus happened “very quickly.”

Sills said the autopsy reports, which will reveal exactly how many times each of the officers was shot and the location of the wounds, had not yet been completed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Both victims were shot with 9 mm pistols, the kind issued by state officials to those who carry guns with the Georgia Department of Corrections. Both pistols are now in the possession of the GBI. Ballistics tests will eventually be conducted at the GBI Crime Laboratory in Columbus where all guns from crime scenes in the state are examined.

The escapees left a state-issued shotgun behind because it was locked, Sills said.

He explained that the shotgun was electronically locked.

“You have to have a key to unlock it,” Sills said, noting one of the officers had a key. “But they (escapees) didn’t take the time to look for keys on them.”

Once the inmates got off the bus, “You can see them run down the side of the bus after they get out,” Sills said. “But that’s all you can see,” Sills said.

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