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Death penalty trial delayed in Georgia prison guard killings

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EATONTON, Ga. (AP) — One of two Georgia prisoners accused of killing two guards had his death penalty trial delayed Monday after his lawyers raised concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Brenda Trammell granted the request from Donnie Rowe's lawyers during a video hearing, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The trial that had been scheduled to start April 5 is now set for Aug. 30.

Rowe and Ricky Dubose both face the death penalty in the deaths of Sgt. Christopher Monica and Sgt. Curtis Billue. Authorities have said Rowe and Dubose shot the guards with the guards' own guns while escaping from a prison transfer bus southeast of Atlanta in June 2017. They were arrested in Tennessee a few days later.

Rowe's lawyers had argued they couldn't safely conduct an adequate investigation during the pandemic, the newspaper reported. They also worried their client might not get a fair trial from jurors staying far from home and worried about health risks.

Because of pretrial publicity the jury will be selected in Grady County, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Putnam County, where the trial will be held.

"These concerns during the temporary pandemic have the potential to be very distracting and create an atmosphere where efficiency and speed override patience and thoughtful deliberations," Rowe's lawyers wrote in a motion.

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