Escaped convict: Death of 2 officers and escape wasn’t planned

Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose, accused of killing two Georgia correctional officers and then committing a crime spree, were arrested last June in Tennessee. (AJC file photo)

Credit: George Mathis

Credit: George Mathis

Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose, accused of killing two Georgia correctional officers and then committing a crime spree, were arrested last June in Tennessee. (AJC file photo)

Ricky Dubose said he shot two correctional officers so he and a fellow convict could escape from a prison transport bus last year, but he said the attack wasn’t planned and that the other escapee didn’t want to kill anyone.

The confession was part of a recorded interview between Dubose and investigators that was played Wednesday in a Putnam County courtroom.

Dubose and Donnie Rowe are both facing the death penalty if they are convicted of murdering Sgts. Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue as they escaped just before dawn on a Putnam County highway on June 13, 2017. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

District Attorney Stephen Bradley has turned down offers that they will plead guilty if he would not seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors and Dubose’s attorneys were in court Wednesday to argue whether the jury seated in Dubose’s yet-to-be scheduled trial would be allowed to see the video. No decision was made Wednesday. The hearing will be continued next week.

In the video, Dubose told agents from the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that he seized an opportunity — a gate inside the bus separating the officers from the inmates was unlocked, guards had failed to double lock prisoners’ handcuffs and one of the officers was asleep.

Dubose and Rowe shot the guards with their own guns and fled, leading authorities on a three-day manhunt that ended in Tennessee.

“He was very cooperative, FBI agent Nathan Opie said about the interview he and another agent conducted with Dubose in the hours after he was taken into custody.

Sitting in a white cinder-block room outside of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Dubose wore only socks, flip flops and a green smock wrapped around his waist during the videotaped interview. The tattoos from his face to his chest were visible.

Many of the details of the time he spent running from the law have already become public through police accounts.

“It’s just something that happened spur of the moment,” Dubose said of the escape.

Curtis Billue, 58 was one of two Georgia correctional officers shot and killed by prison inmates they were transporting. Billue worked in the Department of Corrections for a decade.

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Dubose said he and Rowe each were serving long prison sentences: Dubose was serving 20 years for an Elbert County armed robbery and Rowe had been sentenced to life without parole for an armed robbery in Macon. None of the other 31 inmates on the bus escaped.

The officers had not "double locked" the cuffs on his wrists and ankles before he was loaded onto the bus at Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville to be driven to the high-security Department of Corrections facility near Jackson, Dubose said. So it was easy to slide his hands out of the restraints and he demonstrated to agents how he did it.

“I’m impressed,” said Zachary Burkhart with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The gate separating the inmates from the front area of the bus was not locked, he said. Monica, in the passenger seat, was asleep and one of the officers had place his Department of Corrections-issued handgun into a box on the dash, “just sitting there.”

“The guard is supposed to have the gate locked. He’s not supposed to be asleep,” Dubose said.

As the bus traveled down Ga. 16, the two inmates broke through the gate.

"I was the person who shot everyone who was shot," Dubose said, explaining that he first shot Monica and then Billue.

“He told me not to kill them,” Dubose said of Rowe.

ALSO: Report faults officers in escape

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Dubose said they didn’t harm the driver of a green Honda that they allegedly carjacked when it pulled up behind the idling bus because, “I didn’t want to kill nobody else if I didn’t have to.”

Once on the run, Dubose said they found clothes in the back of a pickup truck they later stole from a Madison business. It was reported their prison clothes were found in a home the two allegedly burglarized for food.

Dubose said they spent a lot of time walking through the woods and showed agents the bug bites on his legs. Once they got to Tennessee, they cooked cabbage on a fire they built.

At a truck stop, Dubose said he took down wanted posters with his photo. He also saw his picture on televisions at the stop and recalled thinking “Oh man, that’s not good.”

Eatonton, GA - Ricky Dubose (front) and Donnie Russsell Rowe enter the Putnam County courthouse last June for their first court apperance after they were re-captured. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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The two men “floated” down a river, which Dubose did not name. One night they slept in an abandoned church near Lynchburg, Tenn., which is where they ditched the truck they had taken in Madison.

The two men ultimately burst into a home in Shelbyville, Tenn. Dubose said they chose the house, home of Robert and Rebecca Hickerson, simply because the backdoor was open.

They were first met by Rebecca Hickerson, and her husband later found them sitting in the living room. “He said he’d help me, take me where I needed to go,” Dubose said of Robert Hickerson.

Dubose said they talked with the couple and prayed, and three hours after coming into the Hickerson house the two escaped convicts tore a sheet into strips and tied up the couple. Dubose and Rowe took the couple's Jeep and a cellphone, which Dubose used to call his brother in Georgia, who "couldn't understand what I did."

With Lowe driving, the two encountered the first police car as they drove through the Shelbyville Square and then "out of nowhere three more popped up," Dubose said.

By the time the fugitives reached I-24, more police cars were following. Dubose said that was when he grabbed the correctional officers’ guns, which they still had, and started shooting.

“I was aiming for tires. I wasn’t trying to get any windshields,” Dubose said.

They eventually crashed and the two jumped a fence and sprinted across a “cow pasture” and ran into some woods, Dubose said.

Inmates Ricky Dubose and Donnie Rowe appeared before a judge in Putnam County Wednesday morning.

He called his brother again and then threw the Hickerson’s cell phone in a creek. Dubose said his brother told him to surrender.

When they came up on a house, Dubose said that was when they took off their shirts to wave as a flag of surrender. They walked backwards up the driveway with their hands in the air and then laid down.

At the end of the interview, FBI agent Nathan Opie said said, “I appreciate your honesty.”

Before they left, Dubose asked the two agents to check on a necklace that jail officials said would be stored with his personal items. It was a gift and he had been wearing it long before his escape, Dubose said.

“I didn’t want them to think I stole it.”

He then showed the agents how to close the handcuffs so he could not get out of them.

“I ain’t going nowhere. I’m good now,” Dubose said offering the two men a “fist bump” as they left the room.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Billue was the passenger who was asleep, but it was actually Monica, according to the Department of Corrections report.