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Georgia Man Convicted Of Killing Guards During Prison Escape Faces Death Penalty

One of two incarcerated men who escaped from a prison transport bus was convicted on Thursday and now enters the death penalty phase of his trial.

By Megan Carpentier
Donnie Rowe

A Georgia man who had been serving a life sentence for armed robbery was convicted by a jury of murder on Thursday and now faces a possible death sentence for his role in a 2017 prison escape.

On Thursday, Donnie Russell Rowe, 48, was convicted by a Putnam County jury of two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder during an escape, escaping from prison and hijacking a motor vehicle. On Friday, jurors began hearing arguments about whether Rowe deserved the death penalty.

Rowe and Ricky Dubose, who had been cellmates at the Baldwin State Prison, were being transported on a prison bus in June 2017 when they escaped, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Video from the bus, shown at the trial, and testimony from other inmates on the bus showed that Rowe and Dubose, who were seated together, used a pen Rowe had brought to loosen their shackles and unlock the gate before they attacked two guards, taking one of guard's guns. Dubose then shot Sgt. Christopher Monica, 42, and Sgt. Curtis Billue, 58, with that weapon, according to CBS affiliate WMAZ in Macon.

Though the defense argued at trial that Rowe had no way of knowing Dubose would kill the guards, mitigating against the malice murder charges that triggered the death penalty phase, prosecutors argued that, in fact, Rowe was the mastermind of the escape plot, according to Fox affiliate WGXA in Macon.

The jury convicted Rowe on all six counts despite the defense's arguments.

After escaping, the pair allegedly stole five other vehicles in succession while fleeing to and within Tennessee, robbed two homes (during the commission of one such robbery, they tied up an elderly couple) and then led Tennessee police on a chase exceeding 100 m.p.h., during which they fired on officers and hit other cars, CNN reported at the time. They were arrested after just over two days on the lam, shortly after the crash that ended the high-speed pursuit. That was when, in the course of attempting to steal a sixth vehicle, the owner of that vehicle spotted them and held the two at gunpoint with the help of another armed neighbor until police arrived and arrested them.

During the death penalty phase that began on Friday, Rowe's defense lawyers argued that he grew up in an unstable household and should be sentenced to life without parole, according to WMAZ. Prosecutors began their case in favor of the death penalty with a witness who testified that Rowe robbed him at knifepoint in 1996.

Dubose's trial for his alleged part in the escape and the murders is scheduled to begin in May.

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