Two ‘not guilty’ verdicts returned in battery case
June 23, 2007
MINDEN – After nine hours of deliberations, a Douglas County jury found a Topaz Ranch Estates man not guilty Saturday of two felony charges in connection with his ex-girlfriend’s claim that he tried to kill her.
The jury of six men and six women told District Judge Michael Gibbons they were deadlocked on two other charges.
Terrence Joseph Howell, who turned 52 on Saturday, was found not guilty of battery with intent to kill with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment with use of a deadly weapon.
The jury was deadlocked on charges of battery constituting domestic violence with use of a deadly weapon and assault with a deadly weapon.
Howell wept as the “not guilty” verdicts were read by the court clerk. He has been in Douglas County Jail on $50,000 bail since his Dec. 21, 2006, arrest by the sheriff’s Special Weapons and Tactics team.
Despite the jury’s verdicts, Howell remained in jail Saturday. He is facing a charge of battery on a prisoner while in custody.
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“Joe (Howell) is very happy,” said his lawyer, Arnold Brock, of Reno after the verdicts. “He’s lost virtually everything. The first thing he is going to do is try to get full custody of his daughter again.”
Howell’s 9-year-old daughter has been living with his mother.
“He’s been raising her alone since she was virtually an infant,” Brock said.
Brock said the jury didn’t believe the 45-year-old woman who brought the charges against Howell.
She told investigators Howell grabbed a knife from a night table and pressed the blade to her throat, cutting her neck. She said she reached up to deflect the blade and severely sliced her hand.
The woman testified that Howell took her in the bathroom and tried to bandage the wound.
Then she said, he swallowed Valium and Seroquel and forced the prescription drugs in her mouth in an attempt to kill her and make it look like suicide.
The woman said she spit the pills out, then Howell allegedly slammed her head into a vanity in the bathroom.
She said she managed to run out of the house just as a friend arrived who drove her to Carson Valley Medical Center where deputies were contacted.
Brock maintained that Howell acted in self-defense and that the woman grabbed the knife to hurt herself and was injured in the scuffle.
He said the woman had a history of suicide attempts and Howell was trying to keep her from killing herself.
Toxicology reports indicated the victim tested positive for methamphetamine at the time of the incident and Howell had Valium in his system, but no alcohol or methamphetamine.
“I think the DNA evidence showed that this alleged victim handled the knife first,” Brock said after the verdict. “The primary question for a jury is, ‘Did she ever handle the knife and who handled it first?’ If she did, it’s a good argument for self-defense.
“I also don’t think the jury believed one word of her story.”
Prosecutor Kris Brown said the District Attorney’s office would evaluate whether to retry Howell on the two counts. She said she planned to talk with the jurors.
Jurors told Gibbons they were split 6-6 on battery constituting domestic violence with use of a deadly weapon and 8-4 in favor of not guilty on the assault with a deadly weapon charge.
“This was a difficult case,” Brown said.
“When you have a witness involved with drug use and untreated mental disease, it raises credibility issues,” she said.
In closing arguments Friday, Brock said Howell had been working, raising his young daughter and “doing fine” until he got involved with the woman in July 2006.
“You (women) bat your eyes, we fall like timber,” Brock said. “It’s not bad, it’s not unusual, it’s kind of a fun, flirtation process. You say something and we become the prince who will save your world.”
Brock said by the time Howell realized the woman’s behavior problems, he was in too deep. Because of her methamphetamine habit and bipolar disorder, Howell was no match.
“It was like a pygmy fighting a Kodiak bear and it’s most likely you’ll lose,” Brock said.
Brown told the jury Friday that Brock had vilified the woman as “the embodiment of evil and Mr. Howell as the embodiment of good.”
“Mr. Howell wasn’t trying to save (her) he was trying to save himself. He tried to control her, she was not controllable. He put a knife to her throat and she batted it away,” Brown said. “She can be snotty, she can be snippy, she can be sullen (but) everything she said is consistent with the evidence.”