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Shooting victim takes stand again at trial

Profile image for By Megan Gray-Hatfield / Staff Writer
By Megan Gray-Hatfield / Staff Writer

Nancy Howard told a Denton County jury Friday that she thought her husband wanted to send her flowers but she later learned he was plotting her death.

John Franklin Howard is accused of hiring hit men to kill Nancy Howard, his wife of 30 years, and is standing trial on a charge of attempt to commit capital murder.

The mother of his three children was robbed at gunpoint and shot with a .380-caliber handgun inside the garage of her Carrollton home in the 1500 block of Bluebonnet Way on Aug.18, 2012, according to Carrollton police detectives.

Nancy Howard was recalled to the stand briefly Friday afternoon and told jurors she spoke to her husband, whom she called “Frank,” while attending a convention at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine from Aug. 8 to 11, 2012.

She told jurors in Judge Bruce McFarling’s 362nd District Court that she had never been to the hotel before and was telling her husband she was “really impressed with the view” from her room. Before she hung up the phone, she testified, he asked her for her room number.

“Maybe he would send me flowers” is what Nancy Howard said she was thinking after he asked for her room number just a week before she was shot.

Testimony and evidence presented from the state during the trial have focused on the links prosecutors say show John Howard’s connection with his wife’s shooting, including alleged conversations where one of the hit men was supposed to show up and beat her with a baseball bat at the hotel in Grapevine instead of shooting her, since a gunshot would be loud and draw attention.

Carrollton police Detective Michael Wall testified most of the day Friday, going over the entire case with jurors.

John Howard was questioned by police for the first time Aug. 20, 2012, about his wife’s shooting. A video of the interview at the Carrollton police station was shown to jurors, and in it John Howard is seen asking questions and providing answers, as well as letting police know he would help them in any way.

Also during the interview, John Howard provided his cellphone to police.

During cross-examination, the defense team of Jerry Cobb, Ricky Perritt and Adam Whitten made a point of showing how cooperative he was to the police investigation by handing over a phone that he knew contained images of Suzanne Leontieff, who in previous testimony said that she and John Howard were in a relationship.

Wall told jurors that after the first interview police had with John Howard, he was unresponsive and hard to track down for any additional questioning about the case.

Nancy Howard was at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas for two weeks and spent three to four days in the intensive care unit for treatment of wounds she suffered from being shot, according to her testimony last week.

The bullet damaged her left eye, ripped through her sinuses, the roof of her mouth and her throat, and lodged in a lung where doctors believe the bullet remains today, she said.

Wall testified that, after several interviews with those associated with the alleged murder-for-hire plot, he felt the need to tell Nancy Howard what was going on in the investigation for her own safety.

Wall told jurors John Howard was denied access to the hospital where Nancy Howard was recuperating, and on Aug. 26, 2012, he was arrested at the Howards’ home in Carrollton and charged in connection with the shooting.

Wall said that the cellphone records of Michael Speck obtained during the investigation showed that he and John Howard contacted each other numerous times on days up to and on the day of the shooting.

Wall testified that he did not have the actual phone he believes John Howard was using at the time.

During earlier testimony, Misti Ford — the ex-girlfriend of alleged shooter Michael Lorence — told jurors that Speck and Lorence, who had met in a California jail, had gone from Grand Saline to Dallas on Aug. 18, 2012, to “go sight-seeing” and do some “side jobs.”

Ford testified that upon their return Lorence admitted to shooting a woman in the forehead.

Lorence and Speck are in the Denton County Jail in connection with the shooting. Lorence is charged with aggravated robbery and criminal conspiracy to commit capital murder, and Speck is charged with solicitation to commit murder and aggravated robbery, according to Denton County records.

Investigators said that Speck was one of several people John Howard paid to have his wife killed.

More than $700,000 connected to bank accounts set up by John Howard was used to wire funds to individuals believed to be part of the alleged plot, Wall said. The amount Howard allegedly paid, he said, did not include Western Union transfers or cash.

Nancy Howard’s mother, Eleanor Shore, also testified Friday. Shore said she made weekly trips to visit her daughter while she was in the hospital recovering from her injuries and stayed and cared for her after she was released.

Since the shooting, Shore said, it’s been a painful and ongoing struggle for her daughter, but “as time goes on she has been much better.”

“She shed more tears than you can imagine,” Shore told jurors.

Testimony starts its third week at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Denton County Courts Building.

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