ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A guilty plea spares a man from a death penalty trial in the death of a Dougherty County Police officer over four years ago.
Dontravius Raynard Thomas has pled guilty of killing Lt. Cliff Rouse, and will serve a life sentence without parole. The court heard from friends and family of the downed officer.
Prosecutors say 23-year-old Dontravious Thomas fatally shot Lt. Cliff Rouse in December 2010, after robbing the Pitt Stop convenience store on Sylvester Road. Lt. Rouse responded to an armed robbery at the Pitt Stop Convenience Store on Sylvester Road near the old Cooper Tire plant a couple of days before Christmas. He was shot nearby at Nob Hill Mobile Home Estates moments later.
Dontravius Raynard Thomas was charged with felony murder, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
During a search involving dozens of law officers, a Dougherty County Sheriff's deputy found Thomas hiding under a mobile home not far from the site where Rouse was gunned down. Officers found the suspected murder weapon (a 9mm Glock), money stolen from the Pitt Stop, and clothes worn by the robber. The items were hidden in insulation under that mobile home.
Then Chief of DCP, Don Cheek, said he was not sure what Rouse saw that led him to the mobile home park. His first radio contact was a call for help. Over his radio, Rouse told a sergeant "Get an ambulance. I've been shot."
Rouse was shot once in the abdomen and once in the left leg. He died after being rushed to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Rouse was wearing a protective vest, but the fatal shot hit him just below the bottom of the vest.
The 18-year DCP veteran was 39-years old. He left behind a wife and two children.
Authorities set up a command center in the area, and every available officer from numerous agencies joined the search for the gunman. Chief Cheek expressed his appreciation to officers from the Albany Police Department, Dougherty County Sheriff's Office, Albany Dougherty Drug Unit, Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshal's Service, Dougherty County School Police, Lee County Sheriff's Office, and Albany State University Police for assisting his officers in tracking down the suspect quickly.
Last February, Thomas' defense attorneys didn't want jurors to hear about his criminal past. In that pre-trial hearing Detective Chad Kilpatrick testified that Thomas broke into that same store in 2009, and lived in a mobile home park behind it.
Thomas pled guilty to the break-in, but his attorneys said that should not be brought up at trial because the crimes weren't connected.
"One has nothing to do with the other. That's the, that's the position," said Defense Attorney Burt Baker.
"It's up to the court to consider the admissibility of this evidence and we will be piecing our case in part on the processes that are allowed under the rules of the court," said D. A. Greg Edwards.