Trial set to begin for prisoner accused of killing guards

CAIRO, Ga. (AP) — Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the trial of one of two Georgia prisoners accused of killing two guards more than four years ago.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Donnie Rowe in the killings of Sgt. Christopher Monica and Sgt. Curtis Billue in June 2017. Rowe and Ricky Dubose are accused of using the guards’ guns to shoot them while escaping from a prison transfer bus southeast of Atlanta. They were arrested in Tennessee a few days later.

Dubose also faces the death penalty and will be tried separately.

The trial is set to be held at the Putnam County courthouse. But because the case garnered so much public attention, jury selection will be held in Grady County, in south Georgia, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Jurors will then be brought about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north to Eatonton for the trial.

Rowe’s lawyers had asked last week for the trial to be delayed, saying the surge in new COVID-19 cases means there’s a risk of a mistrial, the newspaper reported.

“Sadly, Georgians did not unite against the virus and vaccination rates remained low enough to allow the delta variant to develop and spread like wildfire,” Rowe’s lawyers wrote in a motion. “Once again, Georgians find themselves facing a steep threat from COVID-19.”

They said jurors would be so preoccupied by the risk of infection that they are “unlikely to focus their attention where it needs to be — the evidence, jury instructions and deliberations,” the motion says.

Rowe’s defense attorneys have said in previous court filings that he’s willing to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the newspaper reported.

In their motion last week, Rowe’s lawyers had asked that the trial be delayed or that the death penalty be taken off the table. But Putnam County Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell said during a hearing Wednesday that jury selection will begin Monday as planned.

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