Accused murderer found with handcuff key hidden in hair

From left, Georgia Capital Defense attorneys, Gabrielle Amber Pittman, defendant Ricky Allen Dubose, Georgia Capital Defense attorney Nathaniel Studelska. (Photos by Casey Parrish/Eatonton Messenger)

From left, Georgia Capital Defense attorneys, Gabrielle Amber Pittman, defendant Ricky Allen Dubose, Georgia Capital Defense attorney Nathaniel Studelska. (Photos by Casey Parrish/Eatonton Messenger)

Accused murderer Ricky Dubose may have been planning another escape Christmas Eve when correctional officers decided he needed a haircut and found a key hidden in his hair.

Dubose was one of two prisoners who set off a nationwide manhunt last summer after he and another prisoner allegedly killed two state prison guards while escaping from a Department of Corrections transport van. They were caught three days later in Tennessee.

During a court hearing Friday, the judge learned prison officials found a homemade handcuff key hidden in Dubose’s hair on Christmas Eve. The incident prompted Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills to tell Judge Alison Burleson of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit that he was concerned “the inmate who has escaped intends to escape again.”

Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose, accused of killing two Georgia correctional officers and then committing a crime spree, were arrested June 15 in Tennessee. Rowe and Dubose escaped from a prison bus in Putnam County in the early morning hours of June 13 during a routine transfer. (WKRN-TV News 2 photo)

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Sills asked that Dubose always be kept in handcuffs and legirons when in court.

Dubose, who is facing the death penalty, was in a Putnam County courtroom to officially enter his not guilty plea.

Dubose was already serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery and aggravated assault in Elbert County when he another man also convicted for armed robbery, Donnie Russell Rowe, freed themselves from their handcuffs and escaped from the caged area inside a prison transport van. They allegedly overpowered and killed Sgts. Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue with the officers' own guns just before dawn on June 13.

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In Friday’s hearing, Dubose, sitting between his two public defenders, remained handcuffed and shackled. He was wearing street clothes but the stenciling on the back of his prison uniform could be seen through his light blue shirt. Dubose did not speak and kept his eyes down throughout the 90-minute court session.

According to a Department of Corrections report that was reviewed by The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Dubose and three other inmates started fires in their respective cells on Christmas Eve. Once the fires were out, the officers decided to shave their beards and heads because their hair had grown too long. Keys were found on three of the inmates.

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According to the report, Deante Gholston, in prison for armed robbery and aggravated assault, had a key hidden in his beard and an eight-inch weapon strapped to his right leg. Omega McCurtis, in prison for aggravated battery on a peace officer, allegedly had two makeshift keys hidden in his beard.

Dubose told officers he was not planning an escape but had the keys to protect himself from officers he thought would retaliate against him for allegedly killing the two prison guards.

Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath declined to comment on the Christmas Eve incident beyond confirming that a key was found in Dubose’s hair. She said beards and long hair on inmates has long been a concern in the prisons, but some facial hair must be allowed for “religious reasons.”

More than six months ago, Dubose, 24, and Rowe, 44, were on a prison bus with 31 other inmates being moved from one prison to another when the pair allegedly came through a gate that should have been locked and attacked Monica and Bellue. With the two correctional officers dead and the other inmates still in their seats, Dubose and Rowe allegedly carjacked a Honda that had pulled behind the bus and fled. 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.

Steven Bradley, the district attorney in the Ocmulgee Circuit, which includes Putnam, immediately announced he would ask for the death penalty if Dubose and Rowe are convicted of murdering the correctional officers.

Burleson gave prosecutors and defense attorneys until March 1 to file all the motions they intended even though no trial date has been set. Because of all the legal issues that must be resolved before trial, death cases usually take years to get before a jury.

One of Dubose’s attorneys, Gabrielle Pittman with state-run Office of the Capital Defender, said it could be 2019 before the inmate’s legal team — two attorneys and two investigators — finish their investigation.

“We … have to investigate the investigation into this crime,” Pittman said.

Also on the list of things to do to prepare for trial is investigating all other crimes Dubose has committed, research his medical history and life by talking with relatives, teachers and clergy. The defense will also want to interview all the witnesses the prosecution plans to call.

“It takes time to do it right,” Pittman said. “It’s what’s required by the Constitution.”

Pittman complained that officials at the high-security Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, where Dubose and Rowe are being housed, are making it difficult for them to meet with their client by limiting their time, restricting investigators who come to the prison without one of the attorneys, and prohibiting them from bringing state-issued computers into the prison.

“We are very severely restricted,” Pittman said. “This is unique to our client. This is unique to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison… All of a sudden, the rules changed.”

Heath said the agency could not respond to Pittman’s complaints because the case is a pending criminal matter.