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John Howell Criminal Case To Be Retried

May 30, 2018
BY LAUREN MATTHEWS - Editor (lmatthews@wetzelchronicle.com) , Wetzel Chronicle

According to Marshall County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Herman Lantz, the criminal case involving John Michael Howell, 49, will be retried.

This development comes from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which issued a memorandum decision, ordering that John Michael Howell's guilty plea and conviction are vacated and set aside.

According to the April 13 issued memorandum, the case is "remanded to the circuit court, where the parties are to be returned to their respective positions post-indictment but prior to the entry of the plea agreement."

Jury selection will begin July 9 at the Marshall County Courthouse.

Howell was indicted by the Wetzel County Grand Jury in January 2011 on four criminal charges: kidnapping, attempted sexual assault in the second degree, sexual assault in the first degree, and malicious assault.

Howell's proceedings began in Wetzel County, but the case was moved to Marshall County in July 2014 after Howell spat on Wetzel County Prosecutor Timothy Haught during a hearing. Howell was then required to wear a spit guard in court for the next several proceedings.

Due to the kidnapping charge carrying a possible life sentence, Howell was entitled to two lawyers. He requested new lawyers more than a dozen times following his initial arrest, causing several delays.

His trial then began in January 2016, and after a recess during jury selection, counsel announced a plea agreement had been reached. Howell pleaded guilty to kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison with mercy.

It is noted in the Supreme Court documents that the written plea agreement said Howell would be eligible for parole after 15 years in prison.

However, after his plea and receiving the plea and sentencing order, Howell argued he should be eligible for parole consideration after 10 years of incarceration. Howell cited the state kidnapping statute, which provides an inmate sentenced for life may not be paroled until he or she has served 10 years, and an inmate sentenced for life "who has been previously twice convicted of a felony may not be paroled until he or she has served 15 years." The state objected to Howell's protests, noting Howell serving at least 15 years in prison was "the essence of the plea agreement." The circuit court, after a hearing, declined to amend the order to reflect parole eligibility after 10 years of incarceration. The circuit court then entered an "Amended Entry of Plea and Sentencing Order Amended," which included the court's ruling on the parole eligibility period. Howell, however, then filed an appeal with the WV Supreme Court of Appeals. On October 23, 2017, the WV Supreme Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's May 2016 sentencing order.

Howell filed a petition for rehearing, which was granted in February 2018. The Supreme Court's documents state the Court received supplemental briefs and heard oral arguments of the parties. The State has argued Howell is bound by the 15-year parole eligibility provision because it was discussed no fewer than five times during the January 2016 plea/sentencing and the 15-year parole eligibility was also set forth in the written plea agreement.

Howell said that although the 15-year period was specified, no one ever told him the parole statue only requires 10 years.

The Court has agreed with Howell, ruling Howell's guilty plea was not "knowing, intelligent, and voluntary."

Is is noted the rehearing was granted and concurred in by the following Justices: Robin Jean Davis, Menis E. Ketchum, Allen H. Loughry II, and Elizabeth D. Walker.

Chief Justice Margaret L. Workman dissented, stating "It is like swatting flies with a sledgehammer to decimate an entire plea agreement when a simple modification that complies with the law would suffice."

Workman said the error was made by the judge and both lawyers, not the defendant.

Prosecutor Lantz noted, "All I can say is the state felt the plea should've been upheld. (Howell) appealed it, saying he did not know. We feel he knew what he was pleading to."

 
 
 

 

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