Looking Back: Man accused in August 2014 deaths of Dylan Conner and Rosella Mitchell in court for pretrial motions
The death-penalty trial of Brandon David Conner remains only weeks away after Muscogee Superior Court Judge William Rumer denied a defense motion for a delay.
Accused of killing his girlfriend and their infant son before setting their home afire in 2014, Conner is set for trial Oct. 1.
Defense attorneys J. Mark Shelnutt and William Kendrick moved Aug. 17 to postpone the trial, saying they had not received crucial discovery evidence related to quality control and other administrative procedures at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab conducting DNA tests for the prosecution.
Rumer heard arguments on the motion Aug. 21, and issued an order denying the defense request Aug. 31.
The prosecution, led by District Attorney Julia Slater with the aid of Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly and Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus, argued the information the defense seeks is not covered under the law governing pretrial discovery, and must be obtained by other means, such an open-records request.
The case had been delayed before. It was set to go to trial in late January, but had to be postponed because some of the same attorneys were involved in another prominent case coming to trial in Judge Gil McBride’s court, the brutal murders of a grandmother, son and granddaughter, found dead Jan. 4, 2016, in Columbus’ Upatoi area.
Conner is accused of fatally stabbing girlfriend Rosella “Mandy” Mitchell, 32, and killing their 6-month-old son Dylan Ethan Conner before setting their 1324 Winifred Lane home afire on Aug. 21, 2014.
On this past Aug. 21 — four years to the day after the bodies were discovered — Shelnutt and Kendrick argued they needed more time because the crime lab had not provided information on its administrative procedures, data a defense expert needs to judge the lab’s performance.
The defense expert not only needed information, but also sufficient time to review it, to assist the attorneys in defending Conner, Shelnutt said.
Kelly told Rumer the courts have ruled a crime lab’s internal documentation related to its operation is not subject the law on disclosing prosecution evidence, and the district attorney’s office does not collect or maintain such records. The defense is supposed to get that information on its own, Kelly said.
The fire at Mitchell’s Winifred Lane home was reported at 12:35 a.m. About 30 minutes later, Officer Jason Swails saw Conner’s blue 2001 BMW turn from Wynnton Road onto Cedar Avenue in midtown before Conner parked near Davis Broadcasting, where he worked. Conner then sat in the car for 10 minutes, the officer said.
Because of recent business burglaries in the area, Swails questioned Conner and saw the suspect was shaking and sweating, and apparently had blood on him, the officer said.
Conner told Swails he had just left work, which Swails didn’t believe because he’d seen Conner turn off Wynnton Road and park. Conner then altered his story, claiming he’d left work to get some food, but changed his mind and returned, Swails said.
Swails arrested Conner for breaking a city law against lying to police. Because police routinely search suspects being detained, officers checked Conner’s pockets, and found a bloody, yellow dishwashing glove, a bloody baby wipe, a cigarette lighter and an extended grill lighter.
Learning of the bodies found on Winifred Lane, they had Conner’s BMW impounded, and got a warrant to search it. Inside they found a bag of bloody clothes, a bottle of bleach and a bent steak knife with blood on the handle, they said.
Arson investigators in 2014 searched the burned home with a dog that alerted to flammable liquids poured in three places. They also found a gas can stored in a closet. An autopsy revealed Mitchell was stabbed multiple times in the throat and torso. Authorities have not said how the infant died.
On April 14, 2015, a grand jury indicted Conner for murder, aggravated battery, first-degree arson and using a knife to commit a crime. Six days later, Slater filed notice she would seek the death penalty.
Conner’s is the second case in which she has sought the death penalty since taking office in 2009. The first was the fatal shooting of local radio disc jockey Heath Jackson 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 without parole.