A Georgia inmate accused of killing two prison guards during a 2017 escape has been convicted by a jury and could face the death penalty.
Donnie Russell Rowe, who was already serving a life sentence on an armed robbery conviction, was found guilty Thursday of all charges he faced — including two counts of malice murder — in the June 2017 shooting deaths of Baldwin State Prison guards Sgt. Christopher Monica, 42, and Sgt. Curtis Billue, 58, WMAZ reported.
Authorities said Rowe, acting in concert with fellow inmate Ricky Dubose, shot the correctional officers with one of their own guns while aboard a prison transport bus. The two prisoners then escaped, sparking a massive manhunt that ended days later when the fugitives were captured in Tennessee, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Rowe and Dubose led cops in Tennessee on a 10-mile car chase ending in a wreck and gunfire, although no one was hurt. They were taken back into custody after running into a homeowner’s yard, where neighbors held them at gunpoint, the newspaper reported.
Rowe and Dubose were cellmates at Baldwin State Prison prior to the killings. They still had the slain officers’ gun on them when they were arrested, the Journal-Constitution reported.
Rowe’s attorney admitted evidence showed his client was guilty of felony murder, escape and hijacking the prison transport bus, but claimed the inmate had no idea Dubose was going to gun down the officers, WGXA reported.
“Donnie Rowe didn’t shoot,” Levin told the jury. “Donnie Rowe did not kill. Donnie Rowe did not intend to kill. Donnie Rowe is not guilty of malice murder.”
Levin said the case hinged on whether prosecutors could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the malice murder count, claiming the evidence didn’t back up the charge.
Rowe’s attorneys also played video and audio of Dubose saying he was the inmate who shot both Monica and Christopher.
But District Attorney Wright Barksdale told jurors in his closing statement that while Rowe didn’t fire the seven shots that killed the officers, he was the mastermind behind the escape plot — describing him as the “key that opened the gates of hell,” WGXA reported.
“This was a calculated crime that took two of them to complete,” Barksdale said.
Barksdale said Rowe and Dubose had two hours on the bus to devise their plan while “almost sitting in each other’s laps” during the ride. Rowe then opened an unlocked security gate between the guards and the inmates and Dubose followed him. Rowe proceeded to strike Monica with chains from his shackles as Dubose grabbed a gun and opened fire, the prosecutor said.
“The real truth is, but for that man, Ricky Dubose would not have gone through that gate,” Barksdale said of Rowe. “But for that man, Ricky Dubose doesn’t pull the trigger. They were parties to the crime to malice murder, equally responsible for the brutal murders of two people.”
Jurors agreed with Barksdale’s account, finding Rowe guilty of two counts of felony murder, two counts of malice murder, escape and hijacking a motor vehicle. His trial now enters a penalty phase in which a jury will decide whether to sentence him to life in prison or death.
Dubose, who was serving a 20-year state prison sentence on an aggravated assault and armed robbery conviction, also faces the death penalty if convicted. His trial is expected to begin in May, WMAZ reported.
With Post wires