Defense attorneys for Brandon David Conner today said he maintains his innocence in the 2014 deaths of his girlfriend Rosella "Mandy" Mitchell and 6-month-old son Dylan Conner, and his lawyers J. Mark Shelnutt and William Kendrick will defend Conner as District Attorney Julia Slater seeks the death penalty.
Slater in a news conference this afternoon told reporters she expected the state Capital Defenders Office would have to assume Conner's defense, as the law requires attorneys meet specific qualifications to handle such cases.
But Shelnutt said he meets the standards to act as Conner's lead defense counsel, assisted by colleague William Kendrick.
"I've handled a number of death-penalty cases," Shelnutt said, of his client adding: "Mr. Conner's maintained his innocence from the beginning, and that hasn't changed."
Conner last week was indicted on two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, and one count each of aggravated battery, first-degree arson and using a knife to commit a felony in the Aug. 21 slayings of Mitchell, 32, and the couple's infant son. He's accused of stabbing Mitchell to death and killing the baby before setting their 1324 Winifred Lane home afire.
Police arrested Conner, then 35, on Aug. 26.
Investigators described the case as particularly gruesome, noting the bodies were burned beyond recognition, requiring dental records for identification. Muscogee Coroner Buddy Bryan said a crime lab examination showed Mitchell was stabbed repeatedly in the neck and torso. The lab later reported the child also suffered traumatic injury before the blaze, Bryan said.
Firefighters found the two face-down in a back bedroom of the house after extinguishing the fire around 12:30 a.m.
Winifred Lane is in south Columbus, off Amber Drive north of Buena Vista Road.
Within an hour of the fire, a police officer confronted Conner at Cedar Avenue and Wynnton Road in Midtown after watching him sit immobile in his 2001 BMW for about 10 minutes. Authorities said the officer found Conner to be sweating and nervous, with blood on him.
Police said Conner had blood on his face, chin and shirt. They initially charged him only with misdemeanors such as giving police false information, stopping in the street and having unsafe tires. He was released that same day.
Later, after obtaining a search warrant, investigators found bloodstained clothes and a large serrated knife in the car, they said. Conner surrendered to authorities when they issued warrants for his arrest on murder charges.
Conner's indictment alleges he stabbed Mitchell in the throat and torso with a knife that had a blade longer than 3 inches. His malice murder charges allege he deliberately killed his girlfriend and child, and his felony murder counts accuse him of killing the mother and child while committing the felony offense of aggravated assault. The indictment does not specify how the child was killed.
This would be the second time that Slater, first elected in 2008, has sought the death penalty. The first case was the fatal shooting of Heath Jackson, killed during a burglary at his Carter Avenue home on Sept. 7, 2010.
In May 2013, defendant Ricardo Strozier pleaded guilty to Jackson’s homicide and a string of related crimes. Judge Gil McBride sentenced him to life in prison with no possibility of parole.