Pre-trial hearings held on Albany death penalty case

Dontavious Thomas faces a murder charge in the death of police Lt. Cliff Rouse

ALBANY — The wheels of justice move slowly, especially when a person’s life hangs in the balance. During parts of Monday and Tuesday, teams of prosecutors and defense attorneys met before Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss to begin hammering out terms for a trial in which the defendant, if convicted, could face lethal injection.

Dontavious Thomas, age 20 at the time of his arrest, is accused of felony murder in the December 2010 death of Dougherty County police officer, Lt. Cliff Rouse. Because the state is pursuing the death penalty in the case, both sides are being careful avoid mistakes, said Greg Edwards, Dougherty County district attorney.

“Right now we’re in the process of hearing preliminary motions to address issues raised by the defense and responded to by the state,” Edwards said. “Some of the motions we’ll have to have hearings on at a later date, but we’re trying to get all the preliminary motions resolved, giving special detail to the fact that this is a case where the state is seeking the death penalty.

“In that regard we want to make sure that every appropriate aspect of the the process is followed.”

Some of the later motions will require qualified testimony, Edwards said.

Rouse, an 18-year veteran with the Dougherty County Police Department, was attempting to apprehend a robbery suspect near the Pitt Stop Convenience Store on Sylvester Road when he was shot twice in the lower abdomen. After the shooting, police officials stated that the bullets struck just below the “ballistics vest” Rouse wore as protection.

Thomas was later apprehended and charged with felony murder.

A trial date for Thomas has not been set, Edwards said, but will most likely come in the latter part of 2014 or in early 2015.