EATONTON, Ga. — Defense attorneys for Ricky Dubose and Donnie Rowe argued in an unprecedented pre-trial hearing Thursday before two judges that grand jury indictments should be dismissed against their clients.
Separate death penalty murder trials have been set for later this year for Dubose and Rowe in Putnam County Superior Court in Eatonton. The two prison inmates are accused of shooting to death Sgt. Curtis Billue and Sgt. Christopher Monica, both officers with the Georgia Department of Corrections, during an escape from a state prison transport bus outside Eatonton on June 13, 2017.
The victims, both of whom lived in Milledgeville and worked at Baldwin State Prison near Milledgeville, were shot to death with their state-issued handguns.
The joint appearance by Dubose and Rowe was the first time since they have appeared together in court since they were recaptured and transported from Rutherford County, Tennessee after their daring daylight escape and the nationwide manhunt that lasted three days.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty to felony charges against them.
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley objected to Thursday’s joint hearing before Superior Court Judges Alison T. Burleson and Brenda H. Trammell. Bradley contended that the pretrial hearings should be held separately. Despite his objection, the joint hearing went on as planned.
Burleson is overseeing the Dubose case, which is scheduled for trial on Sept. 30 in Putnam County Superior Court. Jurors in that case will be chosen from Glynn County. Trammell is presiding over pre-trial hearings and will serve as the trial judge in the Rowe case. The Rowe case is set to begin Oct. 30, with jury selection held in Grady County. Once a jury has been selected, the case will be moved back to Putnam County for trial.
Defense attorneys contended Thursday that a joint hearing for both defendants was the most logical process because their arguments were similar as to how grand jurors are selected.
Dubose is represented by Gabrielle Amber Pittman, of the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender in Macon; and Nathanial L. Studelska, of the Metro Capital Defender Office in Atlanta Rowe, meanwhile, is represented by a new lead counsel, Franklin J. Hogue, of Hogue, Hogue, Fitzgerald & Griffin, LLP, of Macon.
One of the first matters of business taken up by Trammell regarded whether or not Hogue, who recently joined the Rowe defense team will be allowed to serve as lead counsel, and whether or not that was Rowe’s wish.
Once it was established that Hogue will serve in such a capacity, the hearing switched to the matter of how jurors are selected.
Two other attorneys are assisting Rowe in his defense — Adam S. Levin and Erin Wallace, both from the Northeast Georgia Regional Capital Defender Office in Athens.
During the joint pre-trial hearing, Pittman and Levine asked the respective judges in their cases to “quash” the indictments against their clients.
Defense attorneys contend that the indictments should be dismissed because of the unconstitutional composition of the grand jury, among other reasons.
Another reason cited by defense attorneys was the order of the compilation of a new grand jury pool that is composed of a cross-section of the community in Putnam County.
Levine said in his motion that the master list used to select the grand jury in the Rowe case had more than 100 duplicates, according to a copy of the motion, which was obtained from the clerk’s office by The Union-Recorder.
“Duplicate names have double the chance of being drawn, which produces a non-random list in violation of the Georgia Statute and Jury Composition Rule promulgated by the Georgia Supreme Court,” according to the motion to quash the indictment for Rowe. “Further, the duplicates are skewed demographically toward women.”
A similar motion was filed by Pittman and Studelska regarding Dubose.
Putnam County Superior Court Clerk Sheila H. Perry, along with Grady County Superior Court Clerk Debbie Kines testified at Thursday’s hearing concerning how grand jury lists are comprised.
Another witness called to testify during the hearing was Jeffrey Martin, classified as an expert witness. He is a well-known mathematician and consultant on jury pools and statistical issues and lives in Atlanta.
Both defendants were seen writing notes at various times during the day-long hearing, amid the presence of heavy security from members of the Georgia Department of Corrections Interdiction Response Team, as well as deputies and detectives from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.