Howard gets life in murder-for-hire case

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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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“Girls, green and glory” were three things that Nancy Howard said former husband John Franklin Howard told her once were his downfalls, and as he was sentenced to life in prison Thursday afternoon by a Denton County jury, her victim impact statement rang through the courtroom loud and clear.

“They got you, didn’t they?” Nancy Howard asked her former husband, whom she called Frank.

After hearing nearly three weeks of testimony, jurors took roughly 3 1/2 hours to deliberate John Franklin Howard’s punishment for attempted capital murder before giving him life in prison. He will be eligible for parole after serving 30 years.

Defense attorneys Jerry Cobb, Ricky Perritt and Adam Whitten said their client will appeal.

The jury deliberated just two hours Tuesday before convicting John Howard of plotting to commit capital murder and paying numerous individuals to kill Nancy Howard.

She was robbed of her purse and shot in the temple inside the garage of her Carrollton home on Aug. 18, 2012. She suffered serious injuries as a result of the shooting — including the loss of her left eye — and required multiple surgeries and rehabilitation.

During closing arguments Thursday morning in Judge Bruce McFarling’s 362nd District Court, prosecutor Michael Graves asked jurors to not even consider probation and go for the maximum sentence.

Graves said the good man John Howard once was has been gone for quite some time and that Howard had turned into a “monster.”

“I ask that you humble John Howard,” Graves told jurors.

Cobb on the other hand, wanted to “talk realistically” to jurors.

He reminded the court that Billie Earl Johnson, who allegedly was hired as the original hit man, will serve only a 24-year federal sentence for drug trafficking, although he has been convicted for numerous offenses.

“They think 24 years in federal prison is good enough for him,” Cobb said.

Cobb also told jurors that the Legislature provided an individual’s right to probation and that it is an option, in spite of what Graves told them.

First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck made the last rebuttal for the state. The prosecution team for the Denton County District Attorney’s Office consisted of Beck, Graves and Rick Daniel.

“He has a cold and wicked heart that is beyond description,” Beck told jurors before they left to deliberate the Ponder resident’s punishment.

After the verdict was read, Nancy Howard read her impact statement — to “Frank” and to “John,” in reference to the double life she learned her ex-husband had lived while they were together.

As Nancy Howard sat on the stand looking directly at the man she said she once “worshipped,” she gave him forgiveness. She said she forgave him for the lies and adultery, and for tearing her life apart. In return, she requested that he use the key he had to the hearts of their family, friends and children.

“Release them from the prison you have placed them in,” she said. “Give them the freedom to live in truth.”

 

Moving forward

Perritt said their client will not only appeal but will request a new trial.

“The whole indictment is wrong. They convicted him of just the opposite of what the indictment stated,” Perritt said after the trial ended at the Denton County Courts Building.

Perritt said the indictment alleged that John Howard received remuneration for his attempt to kill his wife, when in trial the state worked to prove he was the one paying the money.

Cobb said he wasn’t surprised by the life sentence but was hoping jurors would give less than life.

“It was a serious decision and we are glad the jury took the time to go over all aspects of the sentencing,” Cobb said.

Beck said it was the “most unique” case she has ever worked in her 21 years of being an attorney and said that the verdict couldn’t have been gained without the work of Graves and Daniel.

“There were no leads in this; it was all very much a group effort,” Beck said. “I just wanted to make sure I did justice for Nancy; I didn’t want to let her down in any way.”

Beck said that the work of the Carrollton Police Department, especially that of Detective Michael Wall, was above and beyond that of any of the cases the district attorney’s office generally receives.

“Usually the police will drop off a case and then it’s our work all the rest of the way,” she said. “Not this time. Detective Wall was right along beside us all the way for the past two years, and we can’t thank him or anyone else involved from his department enough.”

Beck said there is more work to be done.

John Howard still faces pending solicitation for murder charges, and there are a handful of alleged co-conspirators involved who haven’t had their cases closed.

“The dress rehearsal went well, but we still have work to do,” Beck said.

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


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