Cold, hard cash was all it took for a couple to keep quiet about John Franklin Howard’s alleged murder-for-hire plot against his wife, according to courtroom testimony Wednesday at the Denton County Courts Building.
Howard is on trial for attempt to commit capital murder after he allegedly plotted for nearly three years to kill Nancy Howard, his wife of 30 years. The couple’s divorce was finalized last year.
Stephanie Delacerda told jurors that Dustin Hiroms, one of the alleged hit men hired by John Howard to kill his wife, stopped by her home July 4, 2012, to visit a friend of his. After she learned what he was up to, she said, she and her husband of 10 years, Anthony “Jason” Rendine, began to blackmail John Howard.
Rendine also testified Wednesday.
They had a large bonfire, Delacerda said, and were celebrating the Fourth of July at their home roasting hot dogs and marshmallows with a neighbor who happened to be Hiroms’ friend. Not long after he pulled up in his car, Hiroms was passing hundreds of dollars out to her and one of her daughters, Delacerda testified.
She said the next thing she knew, thousands of dollars were on the couple’s bed as Hiroms began counting his money.
Delacerda said it wasn’t long before Hiroms told them what was going on and where all his cash was coming from. Hiroms was being paid to kill Nancy Howard, she testified.
Delacerda told jurors that a “light bulb instantly went off” and she began thinking of ways she and her husband could obtain money from John Howard.
“We discussed what we were gonna do and came up with a plan to blackmail him,” she said.
She and her husband decided to go by the aliases of “Tiffany” and “Wes” and reached out to John Howard just hours after they saw Hiroms for what Delacerda said was the last time.
When contacting John Howard, she told him they knew of the plot to have his wife killed and he asked them what it would take to not tell the police, she testified. The couple wanted money, she said, and agreed to meet at a Whataburger off Northwest Highway in Dallas to collect their first payment.
“When we got to the location, a metallic-looking Lexus was there and I got out and went inside the Whataburger while Jason went to John and got a white envelope with $3,000 inside,” she testified in Judge Bruce McFarling’s 362nd District Court.
A couple of days later, they received notification to meet John Howard at the same location, and this time he handed Delacerda $12,000 in cash, she testified.
Rendine and Delacerda both testified that they wanted more money, but that John Howard told them that to receive further payments he would have to wire the money to them.
Both testified that they initially asked a friend, Andrew Keller, to use his bank account in which to have the money wired, but both said the money was returned and noted as “suspicious funds” by the bank.
Delacerda said she opened a bank account and John Howard wired $20,000 to them on July 26, 2012.
Some of the money, she told jurors, was spent on methamphetamine. From the night of Hiroms’ first visit, she said, she stayed high on the drug for three weeks straight, not even sleeping.
She testified they continued to devise ways to get money from John Howard, who asked the two of them if they knew someone who could murder his wife.
Delacerda and Rendine told jurors they had nothing to do with Nancy Howard’s shooting and were just “stringing him along” for money.
Rendine’s testimony was questioned by the defense team after text messages exchanged between him and John Howard were introduced.
Attorney Jerry Cobb said that on Aug. 15, 2012, there was a text allegedly from John Howard to Rendine asking to talk about a schedule, and on Aug. 16 a text allegedly from John Howard said “she may leave early tomorrow.”
Nancy Howard was shot at her home in the 1500 block of Bluebonnet Way in Carrollton on Aug. 18, 2012. She survived but suffered serious injuries, including the loss of her left eye.
Cobb said another text was sent the day the shooting occurred, allegedly from Howard asking for “Status.”
Rendine said it must have been sent to the wrong person because he wasn’t involved.
Delacerda testified that she tried calling Nancy Howard’s home several times to warn her of what was going on but never left a voice message. She also testified to driving by the home and knocking on the door on more than one occasion in an attempt to reach out to her.
Rendine and Delacerda were arrested in Louisiana, according to testimony, after a bulletin was put out on their vehicle by Carrollton police shortly after the shooting.
Rendine and Delacerda were charged with solicitation to commit murder and have been out of Denton County Jail since last year on personal recognizance bonds, according to testimony.
Hiroms was charged with aggravated robbery. The charge was dropped, according to the district attorney’s office, in advance of expected testimony as a witness for the prosecution.
MEGAN GRAY-HATFIELD can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.