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Possible virus case delays jury selection in murder trial

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CAIRO, Ga. (AP) — Jury selection in the death penalty trial of a Georgia inmate charged with killing two prison guards was halted Thursday because an attorney in the case is being tested for the coronavirus.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said a defense attorney in the trial of Donnie Russell Rowe is awaiting results of a COVID-19 test.

Rowe is charged with murder in the slayings of Sgts. Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue, corrections officers at Baldwin State Prison who were shot with their own guns as inmates escaped a prison bus in June 2017.

Jury selection in the case began last week. If the attorney’s coronavirus test comes back negative, Sills said, proceedings will resume Tuesday. He told WGXA-TV that a positive test result would delay things until Sept. 27.

Prosecutors say Rowe and another inmate, Ricky Dubose, killed the guards while escaping from a prison transfer bus southeast of Atlanta. They were arrested in Tennessee a few days later. Dubose also faces the death penalty and will be tried separately.

Rowe’s lawyers had asked for the trial to be delayed, saying a surge in COVID-19 infections in Georgia could force a mistrial in the case. Putnam County Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell denied the request.

The trial is set to be held in Putnam County in central Georgia. Because the case garnered so much public attention, jury selection is being held in rural Grady County, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) away.

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This story was first published on Sept. 9, 2021. It was updated on Sept. 10, 2021, to correct that a defense attorney, not a prosecutor, was being tested for COVID-19.

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