Papa John's murder cases head to grand jury

Brandon Hawkins is charged with capital murder in Barbara Exum's death.
Brandon Hawkins is charged with capital murder in Barbara Exum's death.
Barbara Exum, the manager of the Oxford Papa John's, was killed during a robbery.
Barbara Exum, the manager of the Oxford Papa John's, was killed during a robbery.
Oxford Papa John's
Oxford Papa John's

OXFORD, AL (WBRC) - Two capital murder suspects are bound over to a Calhoun County grand jury in the murder of a Papa John's Pizza manager in Oxford.

Brandon Hawkins and Donquavious Russell are both charged with capital murder.  Hawkins also faces charges of first degree robbery and second degree assault, plus another robbery at H & R Food Mart in Anniston.

Both suspects had their preliminary hearings Friday, back to back, before Calhoun County District Judge Mannon Bankson.   Both wore orange and white striped jail uniforms.

Oxford Police investigator Dewitt Ashley was the lone witness in both hearings.  He testified that on the night of September 9, 2011, the suspect entered the Papa John's with a gun, around 11:30 p.m.  The suspect made it to the manager's office before the other employee could warn the manager, Barbara Exum, what was happening.

Ashley quoted the employee as saying she was struck in the head with the gun, which the suspect then fired into the floor.  The witness indicated the suspect grabbed Exum by her shirt, then shot her in the chest, killing her.  The suspect got away with more than $1,000 in cash.

Although the suspect was masked, Ashley testified the witness identified Hawkins by his eyes and hairline, and by his voice.

Ashley testified Hawkins was questioned but never admitted his role in the robbery.  However, he said the same wasn't true of Donquavious Russell.

Ashley said Russell gave a statement to police, admitting he drove the 2011 Kia Optima that took Hawkins to Papa John's in Colonnade Square that night.  The car had been rented by a female friend.  He quotes Russell as saying he thought Hawkins simply wanted to buy a pizza, but then heard gunshots, and saw Hawkins run back out.

Testimony alleged as he got into the car, Hawkins said "Go man, go! Go! Go!"  The investigator also testified Russell dropped Hawkins off at an apartment in Hobson City.

The testimony also revealed police recovered both bullets but never found shells, and they still have yet to recover the murder weapon.

Police searched for Hawkins for weeks after the shooting, even recruiting a sketch artist from Hoover Police.  The sketch was sent out to media outlets in Alabama and even Georgia, with hopes from police it might lead someone to see it on the internet and report that they had spotted the suspect.

Hawkins, from Gadsden, was arrested in that city in December.  Police said at the time he was believed to be hiding in Georgia.

Russell, however, was not arrested until February, and that was the first time police ever indicated there was a second suspect.  The Friday preliminary hearing marked the first time police ever publicly revealed Russell's alleged role in the case as the driver of the car that night.

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