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Posted: January 14, 2010 6:08 p.m.

Dawkins dismisses public defender

Judge granted bond to female who may be involved in case

Tyler Smith/

Requesting continuance: Sam Dawkins, right, dismissed his Public Defender, Charles Barrow, in court on Thursday morning. Above, Newton County Assistant. District Attorney Warren Summers address Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn.

One of the four men charged in the murder of 38-year-old Robert Andrew "Drew" Nichols announced this morning that he had hired a private attorney to represent him and requested his bond hearing be continued.

Sam Dumas Dawkins, 45, appeared before Newton County Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn Thursday morning on what was expected to be a routine request for bond. Facing 11 charges including murder, kidnapping and trafficking in methamphetamine, Dawkins was represented by Charles Barrow, a private attorney who was appointed to the case because of a conflict with the public defenders office.

Barrow is one of a handful of attorneys who has a contract with the state of Georgia that allows him to be appointed as a public defender when a conflict of interest (such as multiple defendants in a case) may arise.

However, in this case Dawkins informed the court that he had hired private counsel that morning but that attorney was not aware of the bond hearing and was not present in court.

Ozburn informed Dawkins that the court was prepared to hear the request for bond that day and it would be up to him if he wanted to have the case continued under a new attorney. Dawkins said that he understood but wished the case to be continued. Ozburn granted a continuance until Feb. 11.

Additionally, bond was granted for Tonya Wilson Owenby, 32, who investigators believe may be involved on the fringes of the Nichols murder case. Owenby has been charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of a schedule II controlled substance, trafficking in methamphetamine or amphetamine, theft by receiving stolen property and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Prosecutors allege that Owenby had lived in the same trailer as Dawkins for the last four years. They also revealed that investigators believe Nichols was killed on that property. She had originally been charged because when searching her home in connection with the murder drugs were found. The state requested that bond be denied due to the seriousness of the case she may be involved in and because she allegedly had roughly four ounces of methamphetamine in her possession.

"She has possible ties to a murder case," argued Newton County Assistant District Attorney Warren Summers. "Due to the seriousness of these charges we ask that you deny bond."

Owenby’s defense attorney Ryan J. Swingle argued that she would be moving in with her parents in their Conyers home should bond be granted, and that the mother of three had held several jobs in the community and was employable should she be given the opportunity to work.

"She’s cooperated with the police and she has not been charged [in connection with the Nichols murder] at this point," he reminded Ozburn. "We realize this is a very serious set of charges and a very serious case but we are requesting bond."

Ozburn asked where Owenby’s children were while she had been incarcerated, and Swingle said that she did not have custody of her children and was not the custodial parent at the time of her arrest. Swingle also told the court that Owenby had a relatively clean criminal history with only one prior arrest for a bad check.

Despite the states concern with granting a bond, Ozburn did set bond for $50,000. Generally, 10-12 percent of that bond must be paid before a prisoner can be released, though the exact amount depends on the bonding company used.

Conditions of Owenby’s bond were that she be banned from Newton County, have no contact with Dawkins or any other co-defendants in the case, have supervised intense probation and be subject to random drug tests and searches, adhere to a curfew and not leave her parents home in Conyers from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. though that stipulation could be worked around if she should find employment that required her to work during those hours.

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