Inmate who escaped pleads not guilty to charges he murdered 2 guards

Donnie Rowe, the inmate charged with murdering two correctional officers as he and another inmate escaped 10 months ago, would plead guilty if the prosecutor would reverse his decision to seek the death penalty, Rowe's lawyer said Tuesday.

But until then, defense attorney Adam Levin said in court, Rowe will plead not guilty to two counts of felony murder and two counts of malice murder for a bloody and daring escape from a prison transport bus last June that left two veteran correctional officers dead beside a Putnam County highway.

Ricky Dubose (front) and Donnie Russsell Rowe enter the Putnam County Courthouse on June 21, less than a week after they were captured. Dubose and Rowe are accused of killing two prison guards in a brazen escape. District Attorney Stephen Bradley gave official notice Tuesday that he will seek the death penalty for the two inmates. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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District Attorney Stephen Bradley said Rowe’s attorneys have raised the prospect of a plea deal several times.

"We believe the only just resolution is the one we're seeking, which is execution," Bradley said.

Tuesday was the first time Rowe has been in a Putnam County courtroom since his initial appearance last summer, just days after he and inmate Ricky Dubose were captured in Tennessee and returned to Georgia to face multiple murder charges, as well as one count each of escape and carjacking.

Rowe, wearing a white prison jumpsuit and orange Crocks, said nothing during the 15-minute hearing. He entered his not guilty plea and then his lawyers and prosecutors negotiated with the judge to set his next court date for hearings leading up to the still-unscheduled death penalty trial.

His co-defendant, Dubose, was arraigned in January. Officials said during that hearing that Dubose had apparently planned another escape. Correctional officers found a handcuff key hidden in Dubose's hair on Christmas Eve.

Bradley is also seeking the death penalty for Dubose, who will be tried separately.

Dubose is already serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery and aggravated assault, and Rowe is serving life without parole for a separate armed robbery. The two were among more than 30 inmates being transported to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison before dawn on June 13.

Rowe and Dubose allegedly freed themselves from their handcuffs and escaped from the caged area inside a prison transport van, then overpowered and killed Sgts. Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue with the officers' own guns.

The other inmates stayed on the bus even as Rowe and Dubose allegedly fled in a Honda they carjacked after it pulled behind the bus.

Three days later, the two were captured in Tennessee after they tied up an elderly couple in their home and stole their Jeep, which they crashed about 20 miles away while being chased by troopers.