Lookout in 2008 killing of Houston man for his customized car sentenced to life

bpurser@macon.comApril 11, 2013 

PERRY -- A Houston County jury deliberated about 70 minutes Thursday before finding an Eatonton man guilty in the slaying of another man for his customized car.

Stewart Brannon, 23, was found guilty of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, armed robbery and aggravated assault with a firearm.

Brannon was the lookout in the Aug. 23, 2008, armed robbery and killing of Mario Smith, a maintenance worker for the Houston County Board of Education.

Rounsoville, 25, of Eatonton, the convicted shooter, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the killing. He shot Smith once in the head with a 9mm pistol in a Warner Robins storage unit for Smith’s customized red 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with wide rims.

Superior Court Judge Katherine K. Lumsden sentenced Brannon to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a hearing held immediately after jurors were dismissed and left the courtroom at the end of the four-day trial.

Lumsden first heard from family and attorneys before rendering the sentence.

“I know in my heart that my son didn’t do this,” Angela Brannon told the judge through tears. “He isn’t capable of doing such a terrible thing.”

Also, a statement from Smith’s mother, who was not present in the courtroom, was read out loud.

“It hurts as if it were yesterday,” his mother wrote.

Smith died before his child was born. “She’s a little girl now," his mother wrote.

“You don’t know the pain that this has put on her family.”

Jeff Grube, a Warner Robins attorney representing Brannon, pleaded for a lesser sentence that would have allowed for the possibility of parole after Brannon served 30 years. He noted Brannon was 19 at the time of the crime, and the possibility of parole would give him “light at the end of the tunnel.”

But Hartwig argued that Brannon lied on the stand, paraded six alibi witnesses, did not take responsibility and was the getaway driver in a similar crime in Forsyth in which the victim was left paralyzed. That carjacking and shooting was 13 days before the Smith slaying, Hartwig noted. He said Brannon was equally responsible.

Lumsden, who noted she weighed Brannon’s age in her decision, said she also considered that families were damaged or destroyed through the similar shootings in Warner Robins and Forsyth.

“The sheer sort of cold-hearted evil behind these acts concerns me,” Lumsden told Brannon.

Earlier Thursday, Brannon testified that he did not drive to Warner Robins, and that he did not participate in Smith’s killing.

Brannon’s testimony in his own defense conflicted with his videotaped statement to police that was played for jurors the previous day. Brannon testified that he was coached on what to say before the video recorder was turned on.

During the course of the trial, jurors saw a surveillance video of a man wearing an Atlanta Braves cap come into a Gray Highway convenience store near Macon. A call from the pay phone outside was traced to Smith’s cellphone about an hour before he was killed. The baseball cap was found in Brannon’s bedroom, according to testimony.

Warner Robins police detectives testified that they believed Brannon drove Rounsoville to Warner Robins in a black Ford F-150, stopping in Gray to call Smith. Brannon said on the videotaped police statement that they met Smith at Krystal on Ga. 247 and followed him back to the storage bay behind the Glass Doctor on Watson Boulevard in Warner Robins. He said he thought Rounsoville had purchased the car and followed him out of Warner Robins.

Surveillance video showed a black Ford F-150 parked outside the storage bay when Smith was shot. The truck is seen following the stolen car from the bay area. But its tinted windows prevented police from identifying who was inside.

Darcus Lane testified that Rounsoville and Brannon dropped the stolen car off at his house in Putnam County and left together in the Ford F-150.

The stolen car was later found abandoned near some woods in Putnam County.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service