Columbus firefighters were battling a house fire at his girlfriend’s home on Aug. 21 when police stopped a bloodied and sweaty Brandon Conner in his car in the Wynnton area, police testified Friday at a Columbus Recorder’s Court hearing.
Conner, 35, pleaded not guilty on two counts of murder and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime in the deaths of Rosella “Rose” Mitchell and her 6-month-old son Dylan Conner. Their charred bodies were found at Mitchell’s 1324 Winifred Lane home after firefighters doused the blaze that burned through the roof. Mitchell died of multiple stab wounds to the neck and torso, but it’s not yet known how the infant Dylan died.
Judge Mary Buckner ordered Conner held without bond in the Muscogee County Jail. All charges were bound over to Muscogee Superior Court.
Conner of 3201 First Ave., was taken into custody at 1:30 a.m. at Cedar Avenue and Wynnton Road after he was stopped in his blue 2001 BMW 740iL by officer Jason Swails. The stop was less than an hour after the fire call at his girlfriend’s house. The officer observed the vehicle for about 10 minutes before approaching Conner.
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Police detective Valerie Holder testified that Conner had blood on his face, chin and the shirt he was wearing. “He had one cut on his finger,” she said.
Conner was charged with providing false information to police, stopping in the street and other minor traffic offenses that night but wasn’t held in connection with the deaths. Later that morning, police obtained a search warrant for the BMW and found bloody clothes on the vehicle’s seat and floorboard. A serrated knife with blood on it also was found, but the detective said she couldn’t recall its location.
Conner was represented by defense attorney William Kendrick who asked the detective if there was any signs of a struggle in the home. Holder said a room in the front of the house was in slight disarray with a mattress on the floor.
Holder noted that witnesses in the Winifred Lane area said Conner was at the home between 11 p.m. and midnight on the night of the fire.
Under more questions from Kendrick, Holder said police also are looking at contacts through social media but didn’t disclose what has been found.
Attorney Mark Shelnutt, who assisted Kendrick in the case, said there is a quick rush to judgment but there is nothing linking Conner to the fire.
“There is not one scintilla of evidence that he had anything to do with the fire,” he said after the hearing. “Their theory is the fire was set to cover up the crime. The time line we were trying to establish is he couldn’t have set the fire. There are no accelerants found, no smoke, nothing.”
Conner surrendered to police Wednesday morning after murder charges were filed in the deaths. He stood silent during the hearing and didn’t testify.
Relatives and friends of the victim and the suspect were in the court. They declined to comment on the case.