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911 call elicits emotion

Profile image for By Megan Gray-Hatfield
By Megan Gray-Hatfield

Opening arguments heard in Howard trial

Jurors listened as 911 recordings provided an emotional soundtrack Tuesday for opening day proceedings in the trial of a Ponder man accused of plotting to have his wife killed.

“I’ve been shot. … Jesus, please help me,” Nancy Howard pleaded while talking to 911 dispatcher Dustie Brown on Aug. 18, 2012.

John Franklin Howard is accused of paying thousands of dollars to several people to kill Nancy Howard, his wife of nearly 30 years. He is charged with attempt to commit capital murder and, if convicted, could face life in prison.

The 911 recordings were entered into evidence by the state after opening arguments were heard in Judge Bruce McFarling’s 362nd District Court.

“Nancy Howard’s world was shot to pieces — I mean that literally and figuratively,” First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck told jurors.

Nancy Howard was arriving home from church when she was confronted by a man inside her garage in the 1500 block of Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton, Beck said. She was shot in her left temple, and the bullet is still lodged in her right arm today, Beck said.

Beck described Nancy Howard as a devoted, lifelong member of Carrollton First Baptist Church who had no idea that her husband was living a double life, Beck told jurors.

The couple’s three grown children — Ashley, Jay and Brianna — were no longer living at the home the night Howard was shot, Beck said.

“Her husband was in California on a business trip, or so she thought,” Beck said. “She was home alone.”

The alleged murder-for-hire plot began soon after John Howard fell in love with Suzanne Leontieff on a trip in 2009, prosecutors alleged.

John Howard was living one week in Carrollton and one week with his new love, Beck told jurors, and this continued to play out for two and a half years until he got frustrated.

John Howard was a longtime visiting accountant for Van Tone Creative Flavors in Tyler, and after an employee there had a relationship with a man that ended badly, Howard asked for the man’s telephone number, Beck said. Beck told jurors that John Howard wanted the number because he heard the man could “take care of business.”

“Her purse was found blocks away in a Dumpster because this was not a robbery, but a plot of her husband, John Franklin Howard,” Beck concluded.

The defense team led by Ricky Perritt and Jerry Cobb urged jurors not to believe everything they had just heard. In a short opening statement, they asked jurors to understand that the real evidence is what they will hear on the witness stand.

“What you have heard is just the tip of the iceberg,” Perritt said. “I am confident you will not be able to reach a guilty verdict for Mr. Howard for attempted capital murder.”

Two men were arrested in connection with the shooting of Nancy Howard. Michael Lee Lorence was charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder by terroristic threat and aggravated robbery, and Dustin Taylor Hiroms was charged with aggravated robbery, according to court records.

Lorence is awaiting a hearing in his case on Aug. 28, while the charge against Hiroms was dropped, according to the district attorney’s office. Hiroms is expected to serve as a witness for the prosecution

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