Sister: Howard deserves prison [UPDATED]Published 10:46am Tuesday, September 18, 2012 Updated 11:10am Tuesday, September 18, 2012
“God is forgiving me, and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are in my corner. Thank you.”
That was the full and only statement given Monday morning by James Francis Howard, 48, of Dalton, who murdered his mother Barbara in 2011 by hitting her several times on the head with a machete in their shared home (the assault occurred on April 23; she died in May).
The justice system and Howard’s family were not so forgiving.
Howard was convicted of second degree murder and received a total Commissioner of Corrections sentence of 34 years and seven months, requiring a prison term of at least 23 years and two thirds of a month. With the 514 days Howard has already served in the local jail, the earliest he could get out of prison is around the time he turns 70.
Howard must also pay his family members $45,500 in restitution. He was also convicted Monday of an unrelated controlled substance crime, and a separate misdemeanor charge was dismissed.
A lifetime in prison for Howard wasn’t good enough for his sister, Kathy Wilson, who spoke during the sentencing. Telling Judge Mark Hansen that Howard had murdered her best friend, a tearful Wilson painted a picture of Howard as a selfish and self-serving man, one who she claimed once abandoned his mother after a car accident and who only moved into his mother’s home to avoid paying bills – not to help take care of her as he claimed.
“James always did things to benefit him,” she said. “He did not care how his actions affected others.”
Though Howard told emergency responders at the time he attacked Barbara that he tried to kill his mother because she was suffering from multiple diseases, including cancer, Wilson said Barbara had told her she was cancer-free. Howard also appears to have attempted suicide after he attacked Barbara.
“If he was really sorry, he would have completed the act of killing himself,” said Wilson, later adding that Howard’s prison term was not long enough and that she hopes he “rots in hell” for his actions.
Throughout Wilson’s speaking period, Howard sat silently in a simple orange shirt and brown pants, his shoulder-length hair far more composed than in his county jail mug shots.
Howard pled guilty to the second degree murder charge in June of this year, successfully avoiding a more serious first degree charge. County Attorney David Hauser said the agreement was mutually beneficial: Howard can get out of prison before he dies, and the justice system avoids a potential dismissal or downgrading of the charges and still brings a killer to justice. Though the actions on the night of the assault are clear-cut, said Hauser, Howard was under the influence of drugs and mental illness at the time of the attack, and those kinds of details can muddle trial proceedings.
“There are some things that no one knows except (the) people who were there leading up to it,” he said.
Before handing down the sentence, Hansen told those assembled that nothing he could do could make up for Howard’s actions. He then addressed Howard directly, summing up his feeling that the man before him had behaved cruelly and indefensibly.
“Your mother had a right to believe that her son would protect her and care for her in her old age, and you violated that.”