Death penalty off the table for accused lookout in Warner Robins killing

PERRY -- The death penalty is off the table for a 23-year-old Eatonton man charged with malice and felony murder in the 2008 shooting of a man for his car.

Stewart Brannon, who is awaiting trial in Houston County Superior Court, also was indicted on charges of aggravated assault and armed robbery in the Aug. 23, 2008 slaying of 25-year-old Mario Smith.

Smith, a maintenance worker for the Houston County Board of Education, was found by his brother slumped up against the wall of storage bay in Warner Robins where he died the previous day from single gunshot wound to the head. Smith’s red 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo was missing.

Joshua Dupree Rounsoville, 24, of Eatonton, the convicted shooter, is now serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole in Smith’s death. Brannon is the accused lookout during the crime, according to the warrant for his arrest. He was initially charged with party to the crimes of felony murder and armed robbery.

Both Brannon and Rounsoville had faced the death penalty in the slaying. Rounsoville struck a deal for his sentence and pleaded guilty in March. In late May, Brannon also made a deal with prosecutors, according to Houston County Superior Court records.

The deal

The May 21 consent agreement calls for the judge to consider two possible sentences for Brannon should he be convicted of Smith’s murder. The sentences are life in prison without the possibility of parole and life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Also, his trial in Superior Court has been continued indefinitely at the request of his attorney, according to District Attorney George Hartwig. Jeff Grube, a Warner Robins attorney appointed to represent Brannon, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Brannon is serving a 10-year sentence at the Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls for his part in a shooting at a Dairy Queen parking lot in Forsyth just 13 days before the Warner Robins killing. In that incident, a Caprice Classic was stolen. The man survived but was paralyzed.

Brannon was the getaway driver. Rounsoville was the convicted shooter in that incident. A third man, Robert Burke, 25, of Eatonton, also is serving time in prison for his part in the Monroe County crime.

The prosecution’s case

At Rounsoville’s plea and sentencing hearing in March, Hartwig told the judge he believed he had a good case, noting the similarities in the two shootings. Both were in relation to the thefts of older cars with wide rims.

A transcript of that hearing was included in the court file and includes details of the crime and the evidence the prosecutors say they have in the case. Below are some of those details and evidence.

Smith ran an ad in Auto Trader magazine that included a photo of his car that he kept at a rented storage bay at 2305 Watson Blvd. behind the Glass Doctor in Warner Robins.

Brannon is seen driving a black Ford pickup truck that prosecutors believe he and Rounsoville rode in from Eatonton to Warner Robins the day of Smith’s killing.

The truck along with the images of two men is captured on a surveillance photo from a convenience store in Gray where a call was made to Smith’s cell phone earlier on the day he was killed. Prosecutors believe the two stopped there along the way to Warner Robins and called Smith to set up a meeting in response to the Auto Trader magazine ad.

In a police interview, Brannon admitted to driving Rounsoville to Warner Robins to buy a car that was advertised in Auto Trader magazine. Video surveillance at the Burger King across the street from the Dairy Queen show the men inside the Burger King looking at an Auto Trader magazine before that incident.

The magazine, with the page torn out that included Smith’s ad, was found in Rounsoville’s home.

A .9 millimeter shell casing found in the storage bay where Smith was killed was fired by the same gun used in the Dairy Queen shooting based on a GBI comparison with two shell casings found at that crime scene.

If convicted of life in prison with the possibility of parole, Brannon would have to serve at least 30 years before he could be considered for parole under state guidelines. He was 19 at the time of Smith’s slaying.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.