Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Impending Execution of Paul Howell

Paul Augustus Howell sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Florida on 26 February 2013. I offer the following details of the crime from the appellate decision of Howell v. State (2004):
In January of 1992, Howell constructed a bomb for the specific purpose of killing Tammie Bailey at her home in Marianna, Florida. Bailey, Howell, and Howell's brother, Patrick, were part of a drug ring involving a number of other individuals in which drugs were obtained in Fort Lauderdale and then sold in Marianna, Florida. Howell intended to eliminate Bailey as a witness because she had knowledge that could link Howell and his brother to a prior murder. The bomb was placed inside a microwave oven and then the oven was gift-wrapped. Howell paid Lester Watson to drive and deliver the microwave to Bailey. Although he knew that Howell had often made pipe bombs, Watson testified that he thought the microwave contained drugs. Howell rented a car for Watson to use for the trip. Watson was accompanied on the trip by Curtis Williams. 
While traveling on I-10 toward Marianna, Watson was stopped by Trooper Jimmy Fulford for speeding. Fulford ran a registration check on the car and a license check on Watson, who gave the trooper a false name and birth date because he did not have a valid driver's license. The radio dispatcher contacted the car rental company and was informed that Howell had rented the car. The dispatcher contacted Howell at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to determine whether the rental car had been stolen from him. Howell told the dispatcher that he had loaned the car to Watson but did not know that Watson would be traveling so far with the vehicle. Howell was informed by the dispatcher that Watson was going to be taken to the Jefferson County Jail. Howell did not give any warning to the dispatcher regarding the bomb. 
Deputies Harrell and Blount of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department arrived at the scene and Watson gave them permission to search the vehicle. Trooper Fulford and the deputies observed the gift-wrapped microwave in the trunk of the car. Watson was arrested for speeding and driving without a valid driver's license and was transported, along with Williams, to the jail by Deputy Blount. Deputy Harrell also proceeded to the jail, leaving Trooper Fulford alone with the rental car. Shortly thereafter, a massive explosion took place at the scene. Testimony presented at Howell's trial by the State's explosives expert indicated that Trooper Fulford had been holding the microwave in his hands when the bomb went off. Trooper Fulford died instantly due to the massive trauma caused by the explosion.
I oppose the execution of any person who may be innocent of the crime for which he is to be executed. In all other cases, I stand mute regarding the propriety or wisdom of the execution. In the case of Paul Augustus Howell, I stand mute.


Anonymous said...

I know it's not funny but that sounds like the story line to a 3 stooges movie. WTF

Rick Bonin said...

Did Howell eventually confess?

tsj said...

I don't know if Howell ever confessed.

One advantage of quoting an appellate decision is that the court's summary of the crime is supposedly based on the evidence presented at trial. I find that preferable to a newspaper account.

The appellate decision did not mention a confession, so my guess is that if Howell ever did confess, it was not mentioned at trial. Since a prosecutor would certainly introduce a confession if she could, and since confessions are only rarely suppressed by the court, my guess is that he did not ever make a confession that could be used against him.

Beyond confessions or lack thereof, I also look for any claim that the defendant is actually innocent. I'm particularly interested in a habeas corpus claim based on actual innocence, or an initial appeals claim that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient. (I've never seen an insufficiency claim work.)

Finally, I attempt to see through the State's case myself, looking for classic symptoms of wrongful conviction such as: a single eyewitness who did initially know the defendant; the lack of hard forensics; a reasonable alibi that was simply rejected by the State; testimony purchased (for freedom or time off) from a snitch or an alleged accomplice.

If I sense anything suspicious, I try to dig deeper. Sometimes when I dig deeper, I find myself way more involved than I would have ever hoped or imagined.

Rick Bonin said...

I would love to see your analysis of the Ryan Ferguson case in Columbia MO. That one I can smell all the way from St. Louis.

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