March 18, 2018
A Greene County Superior Court jury Friday afternoon found the accused killer of former Athens resident Darla Gibbons guilty of her murder.
Rodricus Deuntae Ward, 27, was sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole.
Ward was said by authorities to be in an abusive relationship with Gibbons, an Athens native who graduated from Cedar Shoals in 2007.
Gibbons, 26, graduated from Albany State University and was living in Atlanta at the time of her death.
Authorities said Ward fatally shot Gibbons at his home in Greensboro, put her in the trunk of her car, then drove to Athens, where he set the car on fire.
The burned-out vehicle was found Oct. 22, 2014, at a quarry off Winterville Road, not far from Gibbons’ childhood home on Spring Valley Road, where her mother still lived.
Two weeks before Gibbons’ murder, Ward completed parole from a prison sentence in which he served time for robbery and family violence convictions in Greene County.
In the month prior to her death, Gibbons told her brother she was pregnant with Ward’s child. She also said Ward became “violently irate” after Gibbons miscarried, blaming her for the unborn child’s death.
Because of the turbulent history that defined his relationship with Gibbons, authorities quickly focused their suspicions on Ward following Gibbons’ death.
Two days after Gibbons’ body was found, Ward was arrested on a parole violation and was sent back to Macon State Prison to serve out the remainder of his previous sentences, while investigators worked to tie him to Gibbons’ murder through evidence they found at his home.
According to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation search warrant, the evidence included a pile of burned debris where charred clothing and a hoop earring were found. In the bedroom, investigators reportedly found a spent .25-caliber bullet casing near the bed and blood stains on an electrical cord running along the wall across from the bed.
A section of carpet and padding was cut out and removed, from the same place where a crime scene specialist using a chemical agent found apparent blood stains in a “smeared pattern,” according to the warrant. Blood splatters were said to be on a wall.
When questioned by Athens-Clarke County police detectives, Ward reportedly said he cut out the section of carpeting because he spilled paint on it. Forensics experts concluded from the evidence that Gibbons was killed in Ward’s home.
The case was investigated by the GBI’s Athens and Milledgeville regional offices, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.
Lead prosecutor for the trial was Allison Mauldin, chief assistant district attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit.
Anyone who is in an abusive relationship can seek advice and services by calling Project Safe’s 24-hour hotline at (706) 543-3331, or by visiting http://www.project-safe.org.