Defense hopes for beating death trials this year

Defense attorneys for a Columbia County mother and son accused of fatally beating a neighbor hope to proceed with their two death penalty trials this year despite delays.

Rebecca Sears, 41, and son Christopher Bowers, 20, are charged with murder in the March death of Ms. Sears' next-door neighbor, Laverne "Kay" Parsons.

Ms. Sears' attorney, Victor Hawk, said he hopes to try the case this year, but "I don't get to control how fast the state is able to prepare their case."

On March 25, Ms. Parsons was found in her garage beaten to death with a bat and a claw hammer. Ms. Sears, of the 200 block of Hot Springs Drive, and Mr. Bowers, of the 4000 block of Briarwood Drive in Martinez, were arrested a few days later. Both were indicted on murder, armed robbery and burglary charges in April.

Though several hearings for pre-trial motions have been held, none have been "substantive evidentiary hearings" because prosecutors were awaiting results of evidence testing from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab, District Attorney Ashley Wright said. Two more hearings on pre-trial motions are scheduled Jan. 27 and Feb. 25.

Mr. Hawk, whose brother Jacque represents Mr. Bowers, said preparing the case for trial is a slow and lengthy process even without delays in evidence testing.

"We have a lot of forensic evidence out there that for some reason they can't get the testing done," he said.

Ms. Wright said about 80 percent of the tests are complete. She has said that because of backups at the crime lab and the number of tests needed, evidence has been sent there in batches.

"It is causing us a lot of problems in going forward with our investigation and our own testing because we can't obtain samples of the evidence until after they've completed whatever testing they want," Mr. Hawk said.

The time frame for taking a capital murder case to trial depends on several factors, including the number of defendants, the complexity of the case, when evidence is gathered and tested, and how many issues are heard at each pre-trial hearing.

"Generally speaking, its better to try a case sooner rather than later," Ms. Wright said. "It's hard for the family to have to wait and wait."

By law, Ms. Sears and Mr. Bowers will be tried separately. Even if waivers are filed, Mr. Hawk said judges are reluctant to try more than one death-penalty case defendant at the same time because of potential legal errors that could lead to a mistrial.

"We made the request that they be tried separately ... because the evidentiary issues are very different between them," Mr. Hawk said. Case presentation and other factors also will differ in their trials, he said.

Reach Valerie Rowell at (706) 868-1222, ext. 110, or valerie.rowell@augustachronicle.com.

THE CASE

Rebecca Sears, 41, and son Christopher Bowers, 20, are charged with the March slaying of Ms. Sears' neighbor, Laverne "Kay" Parsons.