Seven times Monday morning Muscogee County Superior Court Judge William Rumer asked Brandon David Conner how he pleaded to charges ranging from murder to arson in connection to the 2014 deaths of Rosella “Mandy” Mitchell and 6-month-old son Dylan Conner.
Seven times, Conner, seated at the defense table and facing the possibility of the death penalty, answered in a clear, strong voice, “Not guilty.”
Conner was arraigned 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.
Conner’s accused of stabbing his 32-year-old girlfriend to death and killing the baby before setting the house afire. The charred bodies were found Aug. 21 in their burned 1324 Winifred Lane home.
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Conner, now 36, was indicted by the Grand Jury on April 14; and the Muscogee County District Attorney’s Office announced its intention to seek the death penalty a week later. Conner is the only Musocgee County defendant facing a death penalty trial at this time.
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.
In addition to the not guilty pleas, Rumer went through a litany of items required in death penalty cases. The most important was establishing Columbus attorneys Mark Shelnutt and William Kendrick as qualified to represent Conner. Shelnutt, the lead counsel, has been co-counsel on five death penalty cases. All of Shelnutt’s death penalty experience came as a prosecutor when he was an assistant district attorney. Shelnutt and Kendrick are both taking required death penalty courses and should complete that requirement in the next three months.
Multiple times during the hearing, Rumer asked Conner if he was satisfied with his legal representation. Each time, Conner answered in the affirmative. Conner has elected to hire Shelnutt and Kendrick rather than use a public defender.
The state turned over to the defense evidence it has gathered in the case. That includes witness statements, crime scene and autopsy photos, the police incident report, supplemental police reports, scientific reports, the Recorder’s Court transcript, arrest warrants, and the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services report.
“This is a very long process with a whole list of procedural safe guards propounded by the Georgia Supreme Court to make the death penalty constitutional,” Kelly said.
After both sides get to review discovery, Rumer said he will schedule motion hearings, possibly later in the year. The judge discussed the possibility of taking the case to trial sometime next year.
“Everything for us depends on having the chance to really look at discovery,” Shelnutt said.
Rumer scheduled a status conference for Aug. 7 at 1:30 p.m.