After a trial judge dismissed an indictment against a Georgia man accused of killing an elderly couple, his case will heard at the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday morning. The state is appealing the judge’s decision.
FOX 31 reports that Ronnie Adrian “Jay” Towns is facing murder and robbery charges in connection with the death of Bud and June Runion, a retired Cobb County couple who wanted to buy a cherry red 1966 Ford Mustang. The couple drove from Marietta to McRae on January 22, 2015, after spotting Bud Runion’s dream car posted for sale on Craigslist, but the car didn’t exist and they were never seen alive again.
On January 26, 2015, investigators found the couple’s 2003 GMC Envoy submerged in a pond close to Towns’ family property. Their bodies were found nearby. Both Bud and June had been shot in the head.
According to police, Towns created a phony Craigslist ad to lure unassuming people in, in an attempt to rob them. He reportedly purchased a temporary “throwaway” phone at a convenience store days before the Runions met up with him.
“The phone was bought a very short time ago,” Telfair County Sheriff Chris Steverson during a 2015 press conference. “This deal was negotiated for the Runions to come to Telfair County. And it was soon turned off.”
Prosecutor Joshua Powell said although Towns already had a personal cellphone, he bought a “burner” thinking it couldn’t be traced back to him. The suspect is also accused of trying to lure other people in to look at the non-existent car.
Towns was arrested within a few days after authorities found the couple’s bodies. He pleaded not guilty and has been behind bars since. A grand jury indicted him in 2015, but his lawyers claim the grand jury wasn’t randomly chosen, which violates the suspect’s rights.
Ronnie Adrian Towns is charged with killing Cobb residents Elrey and June Runion. https://t.co/YwLxVaUjQP
— Cobb County News (@CobbNewsNow) April 16, 2019
According to Towns’ lawyers, Telfair County superior court clerk Belinda Thomas “telephoned four individuals she knew personally” and asked them to serve on the grand jury. Two of the four were selected to serve.
“[This] non-random selection of four individuals from the trial jury list, compounded by the self-selection of two of those individuals based on their willingness to serve, destroyed the randomness of the selection process for the trial,” the attorneys reportedly said.
In 2018, Thomas testified that she did indeed contact people she knew, who were “randomly picked from the randomly selected list.” She said she reached out to the four people because she thought they would be readily available and “she could contact on short notice who may be able to serve.”
Thomas explained not enough people showed up for the grand jury to hear Towns’ murder case, and in turn, the judge instructed her to select names to call from the next day’s jury trial.
“I just called people that I thought we could get here in a hurry… it was not that I specifically selected them for a reason.”
AJC reports that state law requires that a trial judge must order the clerk to randomly choose names of those summoned to jury when there aren’t enough people to seat and complete the grand jury.
Georgia Code §15-12-66.1 states that when there are not enough jurors available, “the presiding judge shall order the clerk to choose at random from the names of persons summoned as trial jurors a sufficient number of prospective grand jurors necessary to complete the grand jury.”
Today marks one year of not having our parents. Although we may grieve for their loss, we continue to walk forward into…
The judge dismissed the indictment after Thomas admitted she chose the people herself, but the state is appealing. The next step is the Georgia Supreme Court, where the case will be reviewed to determine if the indictment was properly dismissed.
“Instead of randomly selecting names from the [trial] jury list, the Clerk of Court identified specific individuals that she personally knew, that she could readily contact, and that she believed would be readily available…,” the judge wrote in the dismissal order. “The Clerk of Court chose Tim Spires and Brad Williams purposefully and not at random as required by the statute.”
If the Supreme Court upholds the dismissal, Telfair County District Attorney Tim Vaughn would likely seek a new indictment with a different grand jury.
The story continues to develop. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.
[Feature Photo: Bud & June Runion/Facebook; Ronnie Towns/Telfair County Sheriff’s Office]