In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many r…

Georgia: Death penalty trial date up in the air

Ricky Allen Dubose (L) and Donnie Rowe
Ricky Allen Dubose, 1 of 2 prison inmates accused in the shooting deaths of a pair of Georgia Department of Corrections officers following a June 13 escape from a state prison transport bus in Putnam County, found himself back in the courtroom Friday morning.

It marked only the 2nd time that Dubose has appeared there since he and co-defendant Donnie Rowe were taken into custody following their escape and capture in Tennessee. The 1st time was for a 1st appearance hearing. Friday's hearing involved procedural matters.

Dubose and Rowe are accused of murder in the shooting deaths of Sgt. Curtis Billue and Sgt. Chris Monica, both veteran corrections officers who lived in Milledgeville and were assigned to a transport detail out of Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville. Both men also are charged with 2 counts each of felony murder, 1 count each of escape and 1 count each of hijacking a motor vehicle.

The 2 defendants will be tried separately.

Several members of the victims families, as well as close friends attended the hearing.

In the presence of heavily-armed security from officers with the Georgia Department of Corrections and deputies with the Putnam County Sheriff's Office in the courtroom Friday, Dubose, clad in all while prison clothing, sat beside his attorneys' Amber Pittman and Nathaniel L. Studelska, both of whom have been appointed to defend Dubose in his upcoming death penalty trial. The attorneys are with the Georgia Capital Defense Team in Atlanta and specifically handle only death penalty cases.

The prosecution team, meanwhile, is made up of Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley, Chief Assistant District Attorney Allison Mauldin and Assistant District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale.

The hearing was presided over by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Alison T. Burleson.

In accordance with the Unified Appeals process, Bradley made it known in open court that the state is seeking the death penalty against Dubose and that the notice had been property filed with Putnam County Superior Clerk Sheila Perry.

"Judge, we want to do this very professionally; we want to do it one time and we want to do it right," Bradley said.

When it comes to discovery in the case, Bradley pointed out that the prosecution team was going to give the defense team everything they had.

He later told defense attorneys that 5 boxes had been prepared for them by the district attorney's office.

2 of the first issues that Pittman addressed on behalf on her client involved Dubose being allowed by the judge to wear street-type clothing as opposed to prison clothing for all hearings and during his trial. She also objected to photographs of her client being taken by news media representatives who covered the hearing.

"What we would like is for the news media to be directed to not photograph our client during pre-trial hearings, and for our client to be allowed to dress in street clothes," Pittman said. "The reason for this is his due-process rights are being brought in today."

Pittman said if a jury was going to be selected in Putnam County to hear her client's case, they need to be fair jurors.

As for her concern about the media, Pittman said if the media was going to be allowed to video tape that they simply not be allowed to video tape her client.

Bradley said he agreed with the defense's motion as to the extent of how her client was dressed in the presence of jurors.

"When there is a civilian presence, the defendant ought to be allowed to be dressed in something other than this," Bradley said. "However, the irony here is that should anybody be chosen to serve on this jury, they're going to know that everything took place while they were GC inmates, which the defendant was at the time."

On the issue involving the media, Bradley told Burleson he would leave that matter up to the court's discretion.

"As I read the Supreme Court's decisions, there seems to be a strong presumption of open courtrooms," Bradley said. "That said, I do think I agree with defense counsel that when we get to things that are a little more sensitive - things that are a little more important that we do not need to have out into the jury's knowledge prior to trial, we might want to think about reducing access to some at that point.

But in a hearing such as the one held Friday, Bradley said he had no problem with the coverage by the media.

Pittman fired back contending that the Council for Superior Court judges had recently amended Rule 22.

Rule 22 is part of the rules that govern what news media organizations can do inside the courtroom under the Uniform Superior Court Rules. The Uniform Superior Court Rules are part of judicial proceedings that govern death penalty trials where news media coverage is being provided. Rule 22 allows for still photographs and video tape recordings to take place in the courtroom.

"While that has not gone into effect, one of the considerations that the court is allowed to direct the news media to not photograph the defendant - it says that specifically," Pittman said. "And we would ask that again - we're not asking for a closed courtroom. I want to be very, very clear on that. We're not asking that the news media be eliminated."

Pittman explained that she and her co-counsel were generally in favor of open courtrooms.

"However what we are asking for is that certain limitations be set," Pittman said. "One of those limitations is simply that they not photograph our client."

She also expressed concern about the placement of television microphones in the courtroom and they could infringe on consultation talks between defense attorneys and their client.

"We're concerned about our client's privileges at this point in addition to the potential prejudice going forward for our client," Pittman said. "So, what we're asking for - and I want to also point out that we brought clothes for our client. We have never been denied the right to have our client dressed down in any other court in the state of Georgia for pre-trial hearings, because of the news media."

She contended that photographs of her client were prejudicial against him.

Pittman said the new Rule 22 suggests that the court can place limitations on the media when it comes to photographing a defendant.

"Again, we are objecting to have our client videoed or photographed in his current state," Pittman said.

Burleson said going forward that she had no problem with Dubose being dressed in other clothing.

"That's fine," Burleson said, noting he would remain in his prison clothing for the hearing, but that in the future he would be allowed to change into street clothing, provided that the clothing was properly screened from a security standpoint.

On the issue of the media not being allowed to photograph Dubose in the courtroom, Burleson said she was not going to direct the media not to photograph the defendant.

"But I am going to direct our friends in the media who are here today that you are not to zero in with the camera in any way, if the camera has any sort of capability to infringe on any confidential notes or anything like that that may be being passed or discussed," Burleson said.

The judge cautioned television reporters about what their microphones might pickup during privileged conversations between defense attorneys and their client.

The judge later asked Pittman and Studelska to provide the court with their qualifications as defense attorneys on behalf of Dubose.

Pittman said she would serve as lead counsel in the upcoming death penalty trial for Dubose, while Studelska would serve as co-counsel in the case.

Several other matters also were addressed with Burleson by defense attorneys.

One of those included Dubose not having to be confined to waist chains and that shackles would be removed for court appearances.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who oversees all courthouse security, suggested that Dubose wear an electronic stun-cuff, a specialized security device that would be attached to 1 of the defendant's ankles. Sills said if the defendant were to pose a threat of any sort, that device would shock the defendant, because it would send 40,000 volts of electricity through his body.

When it came to the possibility of a trial date, Bradley and his team of prosecutors suggested a date 6 months down the road, excluding December. That would place it in May 2018.

But Pittman quickly argued that 6 moths was simply not enough time to prepare for a death penalty trial.

Instead, she suggested a trial date 3 years from now.

Pittman said the average death penalty case in Georgia requires an average of 26 months of preparations alone for trial.

The defense attorney told Burleson that Dubose has a history with the Department of Family and Children Services that stretches across 2 states and because she has an extensive caseload involving 6 other death penalty cases in the state that it would be impossible for defense attorneys to be ready for trial in 6 months.

Pittman said representing Dubose was "a mental and massive undertaking defending this man."

She noted that she would be attempting to interview every inmate who was a passenger on the state prison bus at the time of the crimes.

"It's a logistical nightmare, but it's our job," Pittman said, noting it was far too premature in the proceedings to think about setting a trial date. Burleson did not set a trial date.

Bradley also discussed the state wanting to seek a mental evaluation on Dubose so that it would not become a possible issue moving forward. But again, Pittman objected.

She maintained that it wasn't the state's place to request a mental evaluation, and that if one was deemed necessary down the road that the defense team would request their own evaluation.

Pittman said there was no basis for her client to undergo such an evaluation at this time.

Burleson, meanwhile, has scheduled Jan. 5, 2018 as Dubose's arraignment date.

Source: unionrecorder.com, December 2, 2017

Trial date expected to be pushed back of man charged with deaths of Peach deputies

The scheduled February trial of a man accused of the 2016 shooting deaths of 2 Peach County deputies is expected to be pushed back to a date yet to be determined.

Additionally, the prosecution is in agreement with a defense motion for a change of venue in the trial of Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. based on pretrial publicity. A change of venue could mean that the case is heard elsewhere, or that jurors are brought into Peach County from elsewhere.

That's based on discussions among prosecution and defense attorneys with presiding Judge Ed Ennis at a court hearing Friday on motions from the defense seeking more time to prepare for trial.

Attorneys were instructed to talk among themselves to determine which motions can be heard at the next hearing Dec. 13.

Each side is also expected to prepare a "reasonable schedule" - Ennis said - for pretrial and trial dates for Ennis' consideration.

The hearing included a closed segment in which defense attorneys alone spoke with the judge about some of the issues related to preparation of the defense. The hearing then resumed in open court.

In open court, one of the challenges facing the defense team was discussed. An investigator for the defense is expected to be on 12 weeks of maternity leave at the end of January into March.

Additionally, in seeking more time to prepare, defense attorneys noted that the average length of death penalty case in Georgia is about 4 years from time of the announcement to seek the death sentence to trial conclusion. Meanwhile, murder cases that are not death penalty cases average about 2 years in the Macon Judicial Circuit from date of incident to conclusion of trial.

The Elrod case was set for trial Feb. 12, about 15 months from the date of the incident, noted Franklin J. Hogue, one of Elrod's defense attorneys. Elrod is also represented by 2 attorneys for the state's Office of the Capital Defender.

While Ennis is expected to hear suggestions for a revised trial schedule, the judge made it clear that he wanted to keep the case on track. Ennis also noted that his schedule would allow him to be more available for the case.

Elrod, who is charged with murder and related crimes in the Nov. 6, 2016 incident outside his Peach County home, has pleaded not guilty.

Deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron were looking into a complaint that Elrod had threatened a neighbor's nephews who had been riding in front of Elrod's home on a 4-wheeler and a motorcycle.

When Sondron reached out to apparently take Elrod into custody, Elrod pulled out a gun and opened fire on the deputies, authorities have said. When more law enforcement personnel responded, Elrod came out of his garage with a rifle and wearing a bullet-proof vest. He was wounded in the shootout.

Sondron died soon after the shooting. Smallwood died 2 days later.

Eldrod's mother and 2 aunts of Smallwood attended the hearing.

Source: macon.com, December 2, 2017

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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