Man testifies Howard hired him to kill wife

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Al Key/DRC
John Franklin Howard, right, sits stoically with his attorneys while Judge Bruce McFarling read the life sentence handed down by the jury for hiring someone to kill his wife at the 362nd District Court in the Denton County Courthouse Thursday August 21, 2014, in Denton.
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A man in federal custody testified Friday that he was paid $95,000 to kill the former wife of John Franklin Howard, who is on trial in a Denton courtroom for attempt to commit capital murder.

Howard is accused of plotting over the course of three years to kill Nancy Howard, the mother of his three children. If convicted, the Ponder man faces up to life in prison.

Billie Earl Johnson, who pleaded guilty to drug trafficking violations in the Eastern District of Texas last year, told jurors Friday that John Howard asked him to kill Nancy Howard for the first time in 2010. He then identified the defendant as John Howard.

Johnson has been held in the Denton County Jail on a bench warrant so he could serve as a witness for the prosecution.

He testified Friday that the two men discussed the crime by telephone and then met at Shepler’s Western Wear in Mesquite. Johnson got in John Howard’s car, he said, and they went around the block to make sure they were not being followed.

Johnson testified that he was handed an envelope with $60,000 in cash, a photo of Nancy Howard and a copy of her driver’s license.

Johnson said he blew through a portion of the money quickly purchasing drugs and ended up back in jail on a drug possession charge.

After he got out of jail, Johnson testified, he met John Howard at a Texaco station off Preston Road and Interstate 635 in Dallas. This time, he said, John Howard handed over $35,000 in cash in a white envelope.

His plan, Johnson testified, wasn’t ever to kill Nancy Howard, but to keep getting money from John Howard. Johnson told jurors that he and Howard discussed ways to kill the woman, including going to a book club that she attended with friends.

Nancy Howard suffered serious injuries and lost her left eye after a man shot her at her home in the 1500 block of Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton on Aug. 18, 2012.

Earlier in the day, John Howard’s alleged mistress, Suzanne Leontieff, testified that she was with John Howard at a casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, on the night Nancy Howard was shot.

She recalled that he told her Nancy Howard had been shot and he then collapsed on the ground, sobbing.

“He was just a mess,” she said.

During their relationship, John Howard paid $900,000 cash for a home in Santa Cruz, California, for Leontieff and her two daughters, where she still lives, Leontieff testified. He also paid cash for a condo in Lake Tahoe for their getaways, she testified.

Johnson is expected to continue testimony at 8:30 a.m. Monday in Judge Bruce McFarling’s 362nd District Court.

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.


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