Judge delays death-penalty trial amid pandemic concerns

Donnie Rowe (left) and Ricky Dubose enter a court appearance in Putnam County. (AJC file)
Caption
Donnie Rowe (left) and Ricky Dubose enter a court appearance in Putnam County. (AJC file)

A Putnam County judge on Monday granted a request to delay a death-penalty trial after defense attorneys raised concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

During a videoconference hearing, Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell said the trial for Donnie Rowe that was set to begin April 5 will now occur Aug. 30. Rowe and co-defendant Ricky Dubose, who will be tried separately, are charged with killing two guards during an escape from a prison bus in 2017.

Caption
Donnie Rowe (left) and Ricky Dubose are accused of killing two Georgia correctional officers and then committing a crime spree. They were arrested in June 2017 in Tennessee. (AJC file photo)

Credit: George Mathis

Donnie Rowe (left) and Ricky Dubose are accused of killing two Georgia correctional officers and then committing a crime spree. They were arrested in June 2017 in Tennessee. (AJC file photo)
Caption
Donnie Rowe (left) and Ricky Dubose are accused of killing two Georgia correctional officers and then committing a crime spree. They were arrested in June 2017 in Tennessee. (AJC file photo)

Credit: George Mathis

Credit: George Mathis

“Our position hasn’t changed,” District Attorney Wright Barksdale said of the postponement. “We’ll be ready.”

Because of pretrial publicity, jury selection will take place in Grady County in South Georgia. Once jurors are picked there, they will be taken to Eatonton for the trial at the Putnam County courthouse.

In a motion, Rowe’s lawyers had said they could not safely and adequately investigate and prepare their defense during the pandemic, when out-of-state travel and in-person interviews are needed. The defense also expressed concern that Rowe may not get a fair trial before jurors living three hours from their homes and worried about their health and safety.

“These concerns during the temporary pandemic have the potential to be very distracting and create an atmosphere where efficiency and speed override patience and thoughtful deliberations,” the motion said.

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