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Jury selection continuing in Cairo

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Rowe defense attorney held in contempt

Jury selection in the Donnie Rowe death penalty trial continued this week with Putnam County legal officials and the defense team still working in the Grady County Courthouse.

There was one incident during the first week when defense attorney Frank Houge, a member of Rowe’s team, was found in contempt of court by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Brenda H. Trammell.

Another Putnam County official present in the Cairo courtroom, Sheriff Howard Sills, said the jury selection process, which began on Aug. 30, reconvened at 9 a.m. Labor Day, and as of noon that Monday more than half of the prospective jurors were qualified.

“It’s taking a lot longer than we anticipated,” said Sills. “You have to qualify 57 jurors. Each side gets 15 strikes.”

The aim is to pick a jury of 12 with five alternates.

“For both sides to be able to exercise all of their strikes, you have to have a minimum of 57 qualify,” said Sills.

Sills went on to tell The Eatonton Messenger that Judge Trammell found one of the defense attorneys, Houge, in summary contempt and was held in a holding cell at the courthouse for less than an hour Thursday.

“She had ruled on some things, and he did not obey her commands,” said Sills. “He was warned several times, and he continued to refuse her orders. He was warned that he was going to be held in contempt.”

Sills said he and Grady County Sheriff’s deputies placed Houge, a private attorney from Macon, in custody as ordered.

“I think we will be doing this until Friday at least at the rate we are going,” said Sills about the continuation of jury selection. “There are some new legal issues that we haven’t dealt with before that are bogging us down considerably.”

Rowe, along with co-defendant Ricky Dubose, who is being tried separately, is accused of killing two Georgia Department of Corrections officers with the officers’ weapons while a prisoner on a GDOC bus that was traveling on Ga. Hwy. 16 in Putnam County June 13, 2017. Both prisoners were charged with two counts of murder, escape and hijacking a motor vehicle.

A week after Rowe and DuBose were apprehended in Tennessee, then District Attorney Stephen Bradley announced he would seek the death penalty on them.

When the jury is finalized, the trial will relocate to the Putnam County Courthouse with Judge Trammell presiding. Prosecutors are current Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale, Senior Assistant District Attorney Dawn Baskin and Chief Assistant District Attorney Allison Mauldin. Also on Rowe’s defense team are Adam S. Levin and Erin Wallace of the Northeast Georgia Regional Capital Public Defender Council.