Michael Thomas Rowe, 55, was indicted on charges of murdering Kathy Robertson Rowe, 55, in April 2011 and previously pleaded not guilty, but negotiated a plea bargain with prosecutors that took the death penalty off the table. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for malice murder and 20 years, to be served concurrently, for first-degree arson.
Before his sentencing yesterday morning in Judge S. Lark Ingram’s courtroom at Superior Court, Rowe expressed remorse for the crimes he committed Jan. 24, 2011, in Powder Springs.
“I’m very sorry,” he said. “I never meant to hurt Kathy. I loved Kathy. I miss her very much,”
Rowe said his prescription drugs, including Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Prozac and Ambien, caused him to bludgeon the woman he married in 2002 and attempt to set her on fire while she was still alive.
“My medications changed three times. Each time I just got worse,” he said. “I could never hurt Kathy the way I did. I blame the medicine a lot for what happened. If I could have gotten the help I tried to seek, I wouldn’t be here today.”
In tears, Rowe begged mercy from the court, as did his sister, Regina Gordon, who wept openly.
“The court might consider when Mike gets help, I hope he could help counsel other prisoners,” she said. “They won’t let him do that if he doesn’t have the opportunity for parole.”
Gordon said the prescriptions caused Rowe’s judgment to be “so cloudy” that he did not try to flee.
“Mike didn’t try to escape. He went a quarter-mile away from their home, traumatized. He sat in the Wal-Mart parking lot,” she said about the retailer’s Powder Springs location, where police found Rowe in his wife’s green, four-door sedan.
Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans said the defendant had a history of substance abuse and that the Rowes had a tumultuous relationship, logging numerous 911 domestic violence calls.
“She was essentially a prisoner in her own home,” Evans said.
When the Cobb County Fire Department arrived at the Rowes’ nearly two years ago, he said, firefighters found the victim in the bedroom.
“There was a tremendous amount of blood on the bed,” Evans said. “The defendant beat the victim with an unknown, dense but somewhat flexible tubular object. The murder weapon was never recovered.”
Kathy Rowe died of “excessive blood loss” from “severe and prolonged” blunt and sharp force trauma, he said, but not before her husband increased the brutality of the crime.
“The defendant doused the victim with an accelerant,” Evans said about Coleman’s camping fuel. “He attempted to light her on fire while she was still alive.”
Ironically, he said, the defendant helped preserve his own crime scene by closing the bedroom door, limiting the amount of oxygen to the flames
The house, which he said has since been demolished, was almost completely engulfed in flames, but investigators uncovered DNA evidence, Evans said.
“At some point (Rowe) walked in her blood barefoot,” he said.
The victim’s family agreed with the plea and sentence, he said.
“You read my mind,” Ingram said. “I wanted to ask you about that.”
Members of the victim’s family did not speak publicly, but Evans said he spoke on behalf of Kathy Rowe’s mother, Mozell Hall, who has lung cancer.
“While there will never be closure in this case, in light of her recent health issues, she’s happy to have a finale to the case,” he said. “They are pleased with the outcome of this case, assuming you accept the plea and impose the sentence we talked about.”
Rowe’s appointed attorneys were Emily Gilbert and Teri Thompson of the capital defender’s office.
“Not a minute goes by that he doesn’t feel sorrow and regret,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said Rowe’s childhood included physical, mental and sexual abuse by family members, leading to a substance abuse problem by age 12 and problems in school.
“We were able to obtain records showing his IQ was 69,” she said about intelligence quotient tests, in which 100 is the average score.
Rowe was put on medication for depression in 2010 after losing his job of 25 years at an envelope printing company, with “terrible” side effects, Gilbert said.
“He had intense paranoia. He had uncontrollable facial contortions,” she said. “He believed his wife was trying to poison him and having multiple affairs.”
Gilbert said Kathy Rowe handed her husband a pistol on Oct. 28, 2010.
“She told him he was worthless and should kill himself. He shot the weapon at his chest,” Gilbert said about a wound for which he was treated at Atlanta Medical Center. “The (murder) was less than three months after the suicide attempt.”
Although citing abusive behavior by Kathy Rowe towards her husband, Gilbert said she didn’t want to “demonize” the victim.
“Two people were not mentally stable on both sides,” Gilbert said. “Nothing I’ve said at all takes away from my client’s responsibility for his actions.”
After the hearing, Evans said Rowe will be remanded to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson for psychiatric evaluation and then placed in a penal institution, yet to be decided, which is equipped with a psychiatric hospital ward.