Witness places man accused in Warner Robins slaying with victim’s car

bpurser@macon.comApril 9, 2013 

PERRY -- An Eatonton man accused in the slaying of another man for his customized car was seen with the stolen vehicle, according to witness testimony Tuesday in Houston County Superior Court.

Stewart Calvert Brannon, 23, is the accused lookout in the Aug. 23, 2008, armed robbery and killing of 25-year-old Mario Smith, a maintenance worker for the Houston County Board of Education.

Authorities say Smith was shot in a Warner Robins storage unit for his customized 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Convicted shooter Joshua Dupree Rounsoville, 25, of Eatonton, is serving a life sentence without parole for the Smith killing.

Putnam County resident Darcus Lane testified that on the rainy night of the killing, Brannon and Rounsoville showed up at his home asking to park the Monte Carlo, which police later identified as belonging to Smith, at his residence.

Lane told jurors Rounsoville was driving the car, and Brannon was driving his black Ford F-150 pickup truck. He testified that Rounsoville and Brannon left together in Brannon’s vehicle after parking the Monte Carlo in the side of Lane’s yard. Lane said he then left to go gambling and returned about 2 a.m.

The next morning, Rounsoville and Brannon returned for the car -- complaining that its 26-inch rims and tires were missing with the car now up on blocks. Lane testified he did not know what happened to the rims and tires and told Rounsoville and Brannon to get rid of the car. He said he began to suspect it was stolen because the steering column was broken and the trunk messed up.

The two left, Lane called to have the vehicle towed, and Brannon and Rounsoville returned later to retrieve the car before it could be towed away, Lane testified. Rounsoville drove the car away, and Brannon followed in his truck, Lane said. He said he did not know who put a set of tires on the car for Rounsoville to drive it away.

The car was later recovered in some woods off Glenwood Springs Road in Eatonton.

Lane pleaded guilty to theft by receiving and received four years probation in connection with Smith’s Monte Carlo. Lane testified that he didn’t realize what he was doing when he signed the guilty plea, and the attorney he hired, as well as the Putnam County sheriff, district attorney and judge, made him sign the guilty plea.

Other testimony

Also Tuesday, jurors watched surveillance video from the Glass Doctor, which was located near the storage unit where the slaying occurred. The video pictures a Ford F-150 parked outside the bay area the afternoon Smith was killed.

The video also shows the Ford F-150 following the Monte Carlo after it leaves the storage bay shortly after authorities later determined Smith had been shot.

But under questioning by defense attorney Jeff Grube, Warner Robins police Sgt. Art Curnutte testified that because of the tinted windows of the Ford F-150, it cannot be determined who was driving the truck and how many people were in the vehicle.

During opening statements Monday, Grube promised jurors he would produce alibi witnesses for Brannon, who Grube said was not in Warner Robins when Smith was killed. District Attorney George Hartwig declined comment about Grube’s statement.

Both Brannon and Rounsoville are serving time in connection to carjacking of a another customized car in which the victim was left paralyzed.

Authorities say Zapareo Glover, a 2005 Mary Persons High School graduate and former football player was shot Aug. 10, 2008, in the parking lot of a Forsyth Dairy Queen for his customized 1985 Chevrolet Caprice.

Glover testified Tuesday about Rounsoville shooting him in the chest and stealing his car. He also testified that he had never seen Brannon before Tuesday when Grube asked Brannon to stand in the courtroom.

Jurors were not told that Brannon is serving a 15-year prison sentence in the Coffee County Correctional Facility for aggravated battery and theft in connection with the carjacking of Glover’s car. Brannon was the getaway driver in that crime.

A third man, Robert Elon Burke of Eatonton, has been released on parole after serving about four months of a 10-year sentence for theft by taking in connection to the carjacking of Glover, according to the state Department of Corrections’ website.

Also Tuesday, Warner Robins police officer James Bish, then a crime scene investigator who examined the bay where Smith was murdered, testified that he recovered one 9 millimeter shell casing.

Monroe County sheriff’s Sgt. Brad Christensen testified that he recovered a 9 millimeter shell casing from the Dairy Queen parking lot where Glover was shot.

Brannon, who was indicted on charges of murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault with a firearm in connection with Smith’s slaying, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. He later reached an agreement for the death penalty to come off the table in the Smith slaying. If convicted, he agreed to either a sentence of life with the possibility of parole or life without the possibility of parole.

In a plea agreement, Rounsoville agreed to life in prison without the possibility of parole and to testify against Brannon.

Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday morning before Judge Katherine K. Lumsden.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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