Murder case delay unusualPublished 11:01am Monday, August 20, 2012
It’s still not clear why James Francis Howard, the Dalton man who pled guilty to second degree murder in the death of his mother, requested through a public defender to get his sentencing hearing moved back a month.
However, it appears to have something to do with money.
The continuance of the sentencing, originally set for Friday, was unexpected — so much so that multiple media outlets arrived at the Otter Tail County Courthouse at 9 a.m., ready to file stories about the man who was convicted of using a machete to hit his 68-year-old mother Barbara several times in the head and hands the night of April 23, 2011, leaving her with severe head wounds and a skull fracture.
They were informed that the sentencing date had been pushed back to Sept. 17. Barely 18 hours before, Public Defender Ruth Lee came into the courthouse and secured a hearing at 3 p.m. — just an hour and a half before the courthouse closed on the eve of Howard’s sentencing. At the hearing, Judge Mark Hansen agreed to move the sentencing, over the objections of prosecutor and County Attorney David Hauser.
Though he said that hearings are reset all the time, Hauser acknowledged that the timing was out of the ordinary.
“It’s unusual for it to be reset at the last minute,” he said.
Lee brought with her a letter, which stated that Howard wanted the sentencing moved back for “personal and financial” reasons.
When contacted for comment, Lee refused to go into the specifics of the delay bu did mention that Howard was getting money. She would not say why, from whom, or how his sentencing date would affect the receipt of the money.
She said she gave Hansen a brief explanation of the reasons for the continuance during the Thursday hearing, but neither a transcript nor an in-depth summary of the hearing was immediately available from court administration. Hauser told The Journal that he did not know the specifics of the reasons.
“I objected to (the continuance) because I didn’t think the reason was substantial,” said Hauser. He added that though none of Barbara Howard’s relatives were confirmed to speak during the sentencing, he didn’t know whether they were coming or not and didn’t want to inconvenience them.
Court records say that Howard, 48, tried unsuccessfully to kill himself before first responders arrived at the home he and his mother shared on the Saturday night of the crime (he had called 911). In transport to Lake Region Hospital, he allegedly told emergency personnel that he wanted to kill his mother quickly so she would not have to suffer a slow death from some diseases she had.
She did eventually die the following month, and Howard’s charges were upgraded from attempted murder to murder. Over the next year, he was indicted by a grand jury and deemed fit to stand trial after multiple mental evaluations.
He pled guilty in June to second degree murder in exchange for the dismissal of his first degree murder charge and a minimum of 23 years in prison — likely putting him in jail until he is about 70.