Conflicting testimony marks third day of Houston County murder trial

bpurser@macon.comApril 10, 2013 

PERRY -- Convicted killer Joshua Rounsoville identified Stewart Brannon in court Wednesday as the man who drove him to Warner Robins when Mario Smith was slain for his customized car.

Also Wednesday, six alibi witnesses testified that Brannon was playing cards at a relative’s home the afternoon Smith was killed. The testimony conflicted with Brannon’s own videotaped statement played for jurors earlier in the day.

Brannon, 23, is charged with murder. He is on trial in Houston County Superior Court as the accused lookout in the Aug. 23, 2008, armed robbery and killing of Smith, a maintenance worker for the Houston County Board of Education.

Rounsoville, 25, of Eatonton, is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for killing Smith in a Warner Robins storage unit for his customized 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Rounsoville testified that he shot Smith once in the head in the back of the storage bay behind the Glass Doctor on Watson Boulevard for the car. He said Brannon drove him to Warner Robins, then followed Rounsoville as he drove the red Monte Carlo back to Putnam County to hide it at a friend’s house.

Rounsoville said his interest in the car was its wide rims, tires and whatever he could take from it to sell. He said he planned to have the car crushed afterward.

Rounsoville initially refused to answer questions from District Attorney George Hartwig related to Brannon’s alleged involvement in the shooting and armed robbery of Smith.

That promoted a court recess, a conference among attorneys and the judge outside the jury’s presence, and a meeting between Rounsoville and his attorney.

Before the jury was brought back, Judge Katherine K. Lumsden told attorneys that she would have no choice but to strike Rounsoville’s testimony and hold him in contempt of court if he refused to answer questions related to Brannon’s alleged involvement. The judge also admonished Rounsoville that he could not pick and choose what he wanted and did not want to testify about.

Burt Baker, a state attorney who represents people charged in capital offenses, and Hartwig had told the judge earlier that they were in agreement that there was nothing in the court record to indicate Rounsoville’s testimony was part of his plea agreement. Rounsoville’s March 2012 guilty plea to the Smith slaying included a provision that the death penalty would not be sought. Baker represented him.

As a result, the only option Lumsden had to compel Rounsoville to testify was a threat of holding him in contempt of court, which would have added just 20 more days to his life sentence.

Rounsoville also is serving a life sentence plus 80 days for the carjacking and shooting of a Forsyth man left paralyzed that happened just 13 days before the Smith killing.

Brannon, the getaway driver in that shooting and carjacking, is now serving time for his role in that crime. Jurors have not heard that information, but his criminal record is expected to be introduced as evidence sometime during the trial.

In a videotaped police interview, Brannon said he drove Rounsoville to Warner Robins to buy a car advertised in AutoTrader, hung out at a nearby auto parts store while Rounsoville talked to the car owner (later identified by police as Smith), and then followed Rounsoville out of Warner Robins. He said he thought Rounsoville had bought the car.

Late Wednesday afternoon, relatives and friends of Brannon and his family testified that Brannon was playing cards the Saturday afternoon when Brannon is accused of driving Rounsoville to Warner Robins in a black Ford F-150 pickup truck. The witnesses also testified that they never told any law enforcement officer about this even though Brannon was charged with murder and related crimes in the Smith slaying.

Also, Angela Lawson, Brannon’s mother, testified that Brannon had the use of her black Ford F-150 pickup, but the truck identified in police photos as allegedly driven by Brannon the day of the Smith slaying was not hers.

Lawson initially testified that Brannon had been at her home the day of the Smith killing, but then she testified that she was confused about the dates and that she did not know his whereabouts that day.

Brannon pleaded not guilty in the Smith slaying. The trial is expected to move into its fourth day Thursday.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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