Death penalty sought in Pinetree killings

·2 min read

Aug. 31—MARIETTA — Cobb County prosecutors entered their formal notice Wednesday they will seek the death penalty against Bryan Rhoden, the man accused of killing the three people found dead at Pinetree Country Club last summer.

The brief hearing was the first in a string of procedures required when prosecutors elect to seek the death penalty, which are intended to minimize errors in such cases.

Rhoden, clad in a white shirt and dark pants, was silent throughout one of his only public appearances since he was arrested and charged more than a year ago.

He was represented Wednesday by Joshua Moore and Emily Prokesch of the Georgia Public Defender Council's death penalty division. Atlanta attorneys Bruce Harvey and Stephen Katz had initially been retained by Rhoden after his arrest, but withdrew from the case Wednesday.

Questions directed to Rhoden from Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy were answered by Moore, who said Rhoden would exercise his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Rhoden raised no objections to his defense counsel.

Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and Flournoy tentatively agreed to schedule an arraignment hearing for late December. Moore said Rhoden intends to plead not guilty.

Cobb Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Green will be the lead attorney for the state.

Judge Flournoy is set to retire from office at the end of the year, at which point the case will be taken over by Superior Court Judge-elect Sonja Brown, who was also present Wednesday.

Rhoden has been charged with binding Paul Pierson, 76, of Kansas, and Henry Valdez, 46, of California, with duct tape and zip ties in Jonesboro and forcing them into a pickup truck. Rhoden then drove the men to the Kennesaw golf course, where he shot them, investigators allege.

Gene Siller, Pinetree's golf pro and the third victim, is believed to have been killed because he came upon an active crime when he went to investigate a truck on the course.

Members of the victims' families were present in the courtroom and on videoconference, prosecutors said, but were not identified by name.

Rhoden's two co-defendants and alleged accomplices in the murders were not present Wednesday. Justin Caleb Pruitt, who is accused of aiding in the binding and transport of Pierson and Valdez, is in custody in a Columbia, South Carolina jail on cocaine trafficking charges.

Taylor Nicole Cameron, who allegedly retrieved the gun used in the murders at Rhoden's request, has also been charged with trafficking marijuana and is currently out on bond.