Georgia prisoner gets life without parole in guard killings

Posted at 6:18 PM, Sep 29, 2021

EATONTON, Ga. (AP) -- A Georgia prisoner found guilty of murder in the 2017 killings of two guards on a transport bus was sentenced Wednesday to serve life in prison without parole.

After taking only a few hours last week to convict Donnie Rowe of malice murder and other crimes, jurors could not agree on whether he should be sentenced to death, news outlets reported. Putnam County Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Trammell then sentenced Rowe to serve life in prison without parole. A death sentence requires a unanimous jury.

The jury included seven women and five men who had been brought to Eatonton from Grady County, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south, because of pretrial publicity. They deliberated for three hours Tuesday and five hours Wednesday, according to news outlets.

Rowe and fellow prisoner Ricky Dubose were accused of fatally shooting Sgt. Christopher Monica and Sgt. Curtis Billue while escaping from a prison transfer bus southeast of Atlanta in June 2017. They were arrested in Tennessee a few days later.

Dubose is to be tried separately and also faces the death penalty.

Security cameras on the bus recorded the violent escape while roughly 30 other prisoners witnessed the killings from the back of the bus.

Rowe's defense attorneys had argued he didn't know Dubose would kill the guards and should be spared a death sentence. District Attorney Wright Barksdale had argued that Rowe hatched the escape plot and the crime took both men to complete.

In addition to the security video, jurors got a firsthand look in the courthouse parking lot of the bus where the slayings occurred. They also heard from the man whose car the inmates stole right after fleeing the bus, as well as a homeowner in Rutherford County, Tennessee, who grabbed a pistol and called 911 after seeing Rowe and Dubose walking toward his house. He testified that the exhausted fugitives laid down and surrendered.

Rowe did not testify. His defense attorneys played the jury audio and video of Dubose saying he was the one who shot both officers. The defense lawyers then rested their case.

Rowe was already serving a sentence of life without parole for an armed robbery conviction when the guards were slain four years ago.