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State Supreme Court upholds woman's conviction in 2017 murder in Covington
Supreme Court of Georgia
The Supreme Court of Georgia hears cases in the Nathan Deal Judicial Center in Atlanta. (Special | Supreme Court of Georgia)

ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court has affirmed the murder conviction of a woman who claimed she accidentally shot and killed a man with a warning shot intended to stop a brawl between four individuals in Covington in February 2017.

Justices upheld Rita Mary Dugar’s conviction on charges of Felony Murder, Aggravated Assault and a firearm-possession offense stemming from the death of Jon Trevor Townley at the home of Dugar’s ex-boyfriend, Juandrago Carter, in Covington. 

Dugar said the original judge on the case improperly influenced her to waive her right to a jury trial. She also claimed she did not knowingly waive that right, and that her trial attorney provided ineffective counsel. 

However, in a 20-page opinion, the Supreme Court unanimously found these claims “meritless,” said District Attorney Randy McGinley.

“The Supreme Court affirming Dugar’s conviction brings justice and some closure to Trevor’s family for his senseless death,” McGinley said. 

“A disagreement that could have been settled in so many different, less tragic ways turned deadly because Dugar brought out a gun and made a terrible decision to use deadly violence,” he said. “I am proud of the years of hard work that many in the office put into this case.” 

McGinley and Senior Assistant District Attorney Bailey Wilkinson, Deputy Chief Investigator Jill Lumpkin, Victim Advocate Cindy Hooper and Legal Assistant Desiree Kozikowski worked to bring the conviction.

The Supreme Court’s ruling stems from the Feb. 28, 2017, shooting and fight, after which Dugar called 911. 

According to a Newton County Sheriff’s Office press release, deputies responded to a report of a person shot at 105 Sunflower Lane in Covington around 2 a.m. When they arrived, they found Townley in the front yard bleeding from an apparent gunshot wound. He was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

Dugar, of Canton, was arrested at the scene despite claiming she accidentally shot Townley while attempting to fire a warning shot during a melee involving Townley, Carter, Shane Dobbs and Sarah Smith. 

A bench trial was set for July 21, 2020. Before the trial could be held, however, the original trial judge died, and Dugar’s case was reassigned. 

Prosecutors then told the successor trial judge that the parties had agreed to a bench trial, and the trial took place from Feb. 23-24, 2021. 

“Dugar did not testify, but she called three witnesses who testified to her peaceful character. The trial court found Dugar not guilty of Malice Murder but guilty of the remaining charges, and later denied Dugar’s motion for new trial,” according to a summary in the opinion.

Dugar was sentenced to life in prison for Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault, and to a consecutive term of five years on probation for the firearm possession conviction.

She then appealed on a claim that the court erred in convicting her. The state Court of Appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court on Feb. 10, 2022. 

Dugar contended that the original trial judge made remarks at a bond hearing that unduly influenced her decision to waive her right to a jury trial and the trial judge violated state law by improperly commenting on the merits of her case.

“The original trial judge’s remarks at the pre-indictment bond hearing involved no threats or promises; did not mention a bench or jury trial, much less pressure Dugar to choose one over the other or threaten Dugar with a heavier sentence if she chose a jury trial and the jury found her guilty; and were directed to counsel rather than to Dugar personally.” 

She also claimed prosecutors failed to show that her waiver of a jury trial was knowing, voluntary, and intelligent; that her trial attorney was ineffective for failing to advise her of her right to revoke her waiver of a jury trial after the case was reassigned to a new judge; and the attorney’s actions denied her the right to revoke her waiver of a jury trial. 

Dugar, 30, has been serving her sentence in Pulaski State Prison since April 2021.

Mary Dugar
Mary Dugar (Special | Georgia Department of Corrections)