On the heels of one death penalty case, Newton County is preparing for a second this year. Rodney Renia Young, 43, is accused of bludgeoning to death his ex-fiancée's son, 28-year-old Gary Lamar Jones, in 2008.
Attorneys for Young, Teri Thompson and Joseph Romond of the Georgia Capital Defender's Office, were in Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn's courtroom on Thursday, along with Newton County District Attorney Layla Zon. The goal was to hear motions from Young's attorneys, who wanted to suppress several items before the case goes to trial. Ozburn was ready to set a timeline for the case to proceed to trial this year.
According to Special Agent Wesley Horn with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Young was involved with the victim's mother for seven years. When she ended the relationship and moved from New Jersey to her son's home on Benedict Drive in Covington, Young became enraged. At one point the victim's mother's home was destroyed in a fire that was ruled arson. Once she moved to Covington, Young reportedly sent her several letters, the content of which has yet to be released publicly.
On March 30, 2008, the victim returned home from church at Springfield Baptist. His mother found him when she came home from work around 11:30 p.m., bound to a chair, stabbed in the neck and bludgeoned with a hammer. Threats including "Get out of the state Atlanta mom" and "we'll get you Atlanta mom" were scrawled in blood on the walls.
According to Horn, on April 1, 2008, a witness came forward and said he had been approached by a man while he was sitting outside of a store on the square. The man drove a car with New Jersey plates and asked for directions to Benedict Drive. The witness later identified Young from a photo lineup. Subpoenaed cell phone records also put Young's cell phone on Washington Street just minutes after the witness said he spoke to him. They also show that he was close to the victim's residence on the day he was killed.
The victim and his family were originally from New Jersey and shortly after his death local investigators headed to the Garden State to interview Young, with the help of investigators from the New Jersey State Police. On April 3, 2008, investigators visited Young at his job. According to Horn they noticed cuts on his knuckles, and when they asked him if he'd visited Covington lately, he initially denied it. In a later interview at the state police barracks, he admitted to being in the area but reportedly said he was here to visit a sister he'd never met and didn't go to the victim's home.
Young at first cooperated with investigators. Recorded interviews show that he waived his rights and chose to speak with them and he voluntarily gave a DNA (mouth swab) sample when asked. Search warrants were obtained for Young's home and vehicle and.
Defense attorneys want to suppress the evidence, claiming that it was "over-broad, extensive, far-reaching and unreasonable," as well as lacking in probable cause for the search warrant.
They also contend that Young's statements should be suppressed because he was not reread his Miranda warnings at the police barracks, though law does not require that.
"In a case of this magnitude we need to have increased reliability," said Romond, who added that with death penalty cases there was a heightened degree of scrutiny.
Ozburn elected to hold off on a ruling regarding the interviews to give him time to listen to the four hours of recordings; however, he denied the motion to suppress the warrants.
He also said that while he was ready to have this case move forward, it would be at least two months before Newton County's census results were available to them to look at a jury box being pooled properly. At Zon's request, he also questioned defense attorneys about the possibility of using a mental illness or mental retardation defense for Young. Ozburn gave the defense 30 days to file all non-jury related motions, including their plan to argue mental illness or retardation if they had one, a decision Romond objected to.
"This case has been pending since 2008 and the last hearing was in April 2010," said Ozburn. "...I don't think it's unreasonable... He's been under arrest for going on three years now and I think this is a reasonable deadline, I'm not springing anything on you."
Ozburn said he wanted to try the case in the fall if the census wasn't an issue.