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Tennessee resident testifies about home invasion by murder suspects

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Rebecca Hickerson from Shelbyville, Tennessee, wished her husband Bob was able to tell the story of the horrific home invasion they suffered through on June 15, 2017. Sadly, Bob Hickerson passed away in April, and his widow was in the Putnam County Courthouse Saturday testifying in the sentencing phase of Donnie Rowe Jr.’s death penalty trial.

Mrs. Hickerson was emotional from the beginning but was able to smile and laugh at portions of her long appearance on the witness stand under the questioning of Dawn Baskin, Senior Assistant District Attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit. On June 15, 2017, she knew there were fugitives from Georgia on the loose, but she didn’t realize how close they were to her home since 2000. In fact, the Hickersons were planning a North Carolina trip, but she had a broken tooth and needed to see the dentist that morning.

Later that day, at home, they heard the front doorbell ring. Mrs. Hickerson said people who visit always go to the back door. While Mr. Hickerson opened the door and said there was no one there, Mrs. Hickerson saw somebody walking on the driveway. The next thing she knows, there’s a man standing in their bedroom.

It’s a man she would later learn was Rowe.

“Excuse me. Can I help you?” Mrs. Hickerson would see that this dark-haired thin man wearing green pants and a long-sleeved shirt had a gun. This was the beginning of hours worth of nightmare.

As the unwelcome visitor backed Mrs. Hickerson out of the bedroom and down their hallway, she saw another strange man in the house with a gun. She said she learned this man was Ricky Dubose, who is charged with the same crimes Rowe was convicted of in the Putnam County Superior Court two days before her testimony.

Mrs. Hickerson said her husband was not in the house when she saw Dubose, but when he returned, a lot of activity ensued. She said they asked for clothes, food, bandages, ointment and eventually transportation and money. She said Dubose even asked for makeup to cover his tattoos, and she put ointment on his feet.

Mrs. Hickerson described her husband, 71 at the time, as someone who would not back down and told the men to take whatever they wanted and leave them alone. She also described a scuffle that took place between Rowe and her husband as her husband was getting extremely angry and challenged Rowe over a threat to tie his hands behind his back. She said the two went over a butler’s table, and her husband was on the floor face down and Rowe had him in a choke hold.

Mrs. Hickerson recalled seeing how Rowe was hurting her husband. She described how they were gagged and tied up together. She said the intruders even left a phone behind, did what she thought was a fake 911 call, then were told if they called that number to misidentify their attackers (they did call after getting loose but told what really happened).

Other statements: “I think I’m going to die.” “I thought I was gone.” “Thank you for not hurting us.”

Mrs. Hickerson looked at several photos of the crime scene and personal items entered into state’s evidence, and some of that too drew emotional reactions.

The state called Bedford County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the scene and played their body cam video as evidence. Not far from the Hickersons’ home, deputies found a car reported stolen from a farm earlier that day. Also in this area, a church was reported broken into and a truck reported stolen from Georgia was found hidden in the woods behind it.

One deputy, Jared Featherstone, said Rowe’s last known Tennessee address may have been only a half a mile away from the Hickerson residence.

Rowe and Dubose were alleged to have left the Hickersons by stealing their Jeep Cherokee. It was this vehicle that a drug interdiction officer with the Rutherford County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Office pursued starting in the heavily populated Murfreesboro, Tennessee, area and onto I-24.

Mark Gregory testified he was on duty when he received word on the home invasion in the neighboring county. He said he was concerned about a high-speed chase at a time of day, 6 p.m., when there would be a lot of traffic returning from Nashville. But he said he did spot the vehicle in question and followed it, and that he got the sense the driver knew he was being followed.

His dash cam video was also played, and it showed how Gregory followed the car and how it sped its way onto I-24. He said he had a hard time keeping up with the Jeep as his was a K-9 unit, but speeds reached anywhere from 120 to 135 mph. He said he saw the back glass of the Jeep “disappear” and heard thumps on his car, which told him he was being shot at.

Gregory testified to seeing the Jeep go off the interstate and hit a concrete culvert and saw one person run into the woods. He said he and the other officers in pursuit had to be careful of an ambush.