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Mayhew heads to trial for Bonnie Rushing murder after motions hearing
Judge denies request to replace public defender, will allow ‘feds are after me’ motive testimony
Lee Allen Mayhew, in jail uniform, leans in to speak to Assistant Public Defender Elise Miller during a Friday, Jan. 27, motions hearing in Bulloch County Superior Court. Miller and Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Public Defender Renata Newbill-Jallow are carry
Lee Allen Mayhew, in jail uniform, leans in to speak to Assistant Public Defender Elise Miller during a Friday, Jan. 27, motions hearing in Bulloch County Superior Court. Miller and Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Public Defender Renata Newbill-Jallow are carrying forward Mayhew's defense into his trial next week on murder charges and allegations of other crimes surrounding the October 2020 shooting death of Bonnie Lanier Rushing at her family's home in the Leefield community. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Public Defender Renata Newbill-Jallow remains Lee Allen Mayhew’s lead counsel for his trial next week for the October 2020 murder of Bonnie Lanier Rushing. During a pretrial motions hearing Friday, Superior Court Judge Lovett Bennett Jr. rejected Mayhew’s request to replace Newbill-Jallow with a substitute public defender.

bonnie rushing.jpeg
Bonnie Rushing

Bennett also ruled that some witnesses’ testimony about things Mayhew purportedly said before and after Rushing was shot on Oct. 23, 2020 will be allowed in, after Newbill-Jallow and Assistant Public Defender Elise Miller sought to have this testimony excluded.

Now Mayhew’s case moves forward to jury selection Monday, Jan. 30, in Bulloch County Superior Court, with the trial allotted the rest of the week, to Feb. 3. Under a 13-count indictment, he is accused of malice murder and felony murder for Rushing’s death, plus aggravated assault, two firearms charges, theft of a motor vehicle, four other counts of theft by taking and two counts of first-degree burglary.

Prosecutors allege that he committed these crimes during uninvited visits to two homes in two days in Bulloch County while fleeing prosecution for a federal firearms charge in Tennessee.


Handwritten request

On Nov. 29, 2022, Mayhew mailed a handwritten legal motion from the Bulloch County Jail to the Clerk of Courts Office, where it was filed Dec. 2, asking Bennett to remove Newbill-Jallow as his counsel and replace her with a “conflict” public defender. These are state-contracted defense attorneys, not affiliated with the circuit public defender’s office, who are assigned when the circuit office and its attorneys have a conflict of interest.

In his written request, Mayhew asserted that Newbill-Jallow showed “ineffectiveness, lack of communication” and “possibly a conflict” because, he wrote, she had said she knew the victim and had “worked with her" in the past.

It was Newbill-Jallow who first brought up Mayhew’s request during Friday’s hearing.

“Your honor, our position is we’re representing Mr. Mayhew. We’re here. We’re prepared,” she said, but added that whether she was replaced would be at the judge’s discretion.

Assistant District Attorneys Casey Blount and Jennifer Parker presented the prosecution arguments, with District Attorney Daphne Totten also in attendance.

Blount argued that Mayhew had two and a half years to hire a private attorney if he wanted one and the financial means to do so, having inherited “a significant amount of money” from his mother.

This left Newbill-Jallow asking the judge to hear her client’s request that she be replaced.

“As the court is aware, these are very serious charges,” she said. “As I said, my  team, Ms. Miller  and  I, are ready to go.  However, I do think you may want to inquire to Mr. Mayhew, if he still wants us to represent him.”

Other options, she noted, could have included Mayhew representing himself or a conflict public defender being appointed.

This led to the judge addressing Mayhew directly and letting him come to the attorneys’ lectern to answer questions.

“Yes sir, your honor,” Mayhew said when Bennett asked if he still wanted the motion to remove his attorney heard. The judge swore him in to testify on this matter and asked if he wanted to represent  himself.

“No sir, my point in filing that motion was to receive another lawyer that I did not have a conflict with, to better represent myself,” Mayhew said.  “I’m facing a very large prison sentence, and which I’m already serving one  from  the  federal government.”

Now 46 years old, he has a 15-year federal sentence ahead for possessing a stolen firearm while a convicted felon. That sentence, stemming from a Feb.  5, 2018 traffic stop in Murfreesboro, was imposed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on April 12, 2022, but Mayhew has been held in the Bulloch County Jail since being returned there April 19.

If he is convicted of murder, the prosecutors will ask that he be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Speaking to the judge, Mayhew said he had Newbill-Jallow as his attorney here for nearly two and a half years and had seen more of her in the past two and a half weeks than in all the rest of that time.

“I’m not qualified to represent myself, but I just feel in my heart that I’m not getting the best representation that I can,” he said.


‘Purposes of delay’

But Blount argued that Mayhew had alleged nothing that presented a legal conflict.

“At this point Mr. Mayhew’s request is for the purpose of delaying these proceedings,” Blount said.

Newbill-Jallow spoke last, saying the defendant should have confidence in his counsel and that the judge should take his statements into consideration.

Then Bennett announced that the court found Mayhew’s petition for change of counsel “untimely” and “interposed for purposes of delay.”

“As he indicated, this case has gone on for two and a half years,” Bennett said. “He has had the opportunity to hire his own attorney and has not done so. He’s not allowed to pick and choose his appointed counsel, so the court is going to deny the motion.”

Two other decisions Friday had to do with admissibility of witnesses’ testimony about things Mayhew reportedly said to them. These involved arguments over exceptions to the hearsay rule and prohibited character testimony.


Jailhouse comment

Cpl. Ruby Balladares, a jail booking officer, will be allowed to testify about a statement she reported Mayhew made to her at the Bulloch County Jail on or about  Nov. 10, 2020. Balladares was assigned to suicide watch, checking on Mayhew in  a holding cell every  15  minutes when she said,  “No,”  to him in response to something he asked for, but she doesn’t remember what, she said.

“So he got mad, and he made a comment where he said, ‘That’s why y’all don’t like me, because I  killed that lady,’” Balladares told the judge.

She had told this to an investigator at the time and made a written report, she said.

Bennett ruled that this is admissible as a “spontaneous utterance,” not made in response to interrogation by a law enforcement officer.


‘Feds after me’

Prosecutors are also expected to call as a witness a man who reported that Mayhew spoke to him in the same area of Bulloch County the day before Rushing’s death.

Newbill-Jallow objected that one thing the witness reported Mayhew said would be “highly prejudicial” and would improperly put “character in evidence” and asked that the witness be barred from repeating it to the jury.

Assistant District Attorney Parker said the statement Mayhew allegedly made to the witness was, “How the hell do you get out of here? … The feds are after me and I’ve got a weapons violation.”

Prosecutors believe that his flight from the federal weapons charge became Mayhew’s motive for all of the crimes alleged, “committing burglaries, stealing a golf cart …  stealing a vehicle when we allege he killed Mrs. Rushing,” Parker said.

“The state does understand we need to tread lightly with this, and we would not argue this for any other purpose than motive,” she said.

Bennett said he will allow the statement in that context, with limiting instructions to the jury.

One thing the judge had left to decide by Monday was whether Mayhew would remain in shackles for the trial, as a matter of courtroom security at the request  of the Sheriff’s Office, or whether the shackles would be removed  as potentially prejudicial in the eyes of the jury.




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