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Accused killer of Peach deputies has first hearing in death-penalty case

Accused in fatal shooting of Peach County deputies in court

Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. appears in court for the first time since the notice to seek the death penalty was filed against him in the Nov. 6, 2016 fatal shooting of two Peach County deputies.
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Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. appears in court for the first time since the notice to seek the death penalty was filed against him in the Nov. 6, 2016 fatal shooting of two Peach County deputies.

A Byron man charged with the fatal shooting of two Peach County deputies was in court Tuesday for the first time since the district attorney filed notice to seek the death penalty.

Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr., 57, is accused of pulling a handgun from his waistband Nov. 6 and shooting deputy Daryl Smallwood and Sgt. Patrick Sondron, who had been dispatched to investigate a complaint that he had threatened a neighbor’s nephews with a firearm.

The nephews had been riding a four-wheeler and a motorcycle in front of his Hardison Road home. Elrod was wounded in a shootout with police who responded to call of officers down.

Free of handcuffs and shackles and wearing dress pants, shirt, a coat and tie, Elrod was formally handed the notice to seek the death penalty against him by District Attorney David Cooke.

Elrod sat between the attorney he has retained, Franklin J. Hogue of Macon, and his court-appointed attorneys, Gabrielle Amber Pittman and Nathanial L. Studeska of the Middle Georgia Regional Capital Defender Office.

Judge Ed Ennis questioned the appropriateness of Elrod’s having both paid and court-appointed attorneys. The judge said he expects to hear from attorneys on that issue and others at a May 22 arraignment for Elrod.

Hogue said he expects more time will be needed for preparation. Pittman and Studeska are due in court for two to three months this summer on another death-penalty case. Pittman and Studeska also represent Christopher Calmer, the man charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of Monroe County deputy Michael Norris.

Already, Elrod’s defense team has filed 15 motions, including one that challenges the makeup of the grand jury that indicted him on two counts of malice murder and felony murder, three counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer and two counts of aggravated assault. Another motion deals with the sharing of evidence among prosecution and defense attorneys.

The bulk of the GBI file on the case has been completed to be shared with the defense, but an “emergency” for the GBI delayed its completion, Cooke told the judge. The emergency: arrests in the 2005 disappearance of Irwin County High School teacher and former beauty queen Tara Grinstead, and the search by GBI agents from multiple field offices of a pecan field for her remains in neighboring Ben Hill County.

Hogue told the judge he expects “scores” of additional motions to be filed on Elrod’s behalf.

Renee Smallwood, Smallwood’s widow and the mother of their 3-year-old son, Wyatt, sat in the back of the courtroom, taking it all in. Smallwood, who declined comment, asked questions of prosecutors in the hallway after the hour-long hearing at the Peach County Courthouse.

Becky Purser: 478-256-9559, @BecPurser

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