Prosecutors order release of man held in killing of terminally ill friend
SANTA ANA, Calif. – A man held for investigation of killing his terminally ill best friend was ordered released from jail Tuesday but San Bernardino County prosecutors said they may reconsider a murder charge pending the outcome of an autopsy.
Kim Kevin Howell, held in the death of James Leon Scott, was scheduled to be released from jail by midnight, said district attorney’s spokeswoman Susan Mickey.
”We are waiting to find out the exact cause of death before we make a determination,” she said.
Howell, 43, of Queen Creek, Ariz., was arrested Saturday after a nurse saw him leave his friend’s hospital room and found the patient’s ventilator tube removed from his neck.
Scott, 43, died a few minutes later at Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Administration Medical Center, about 50 miles east of Santa Ana, police said.
The district attorney’s announcement came the same day family of both men said the two had a pact that if one was ill and suffering, the other would pull the plug.
”They had an agreement,” said Howell’s grandfather, Orus Howell. ”I expect he thought he was doing the right thing.”
Scott, of Lake Elsinore, suffered from terminal cancer and had been hospitalized since mid-January. The family had given a do-not-resuscitate order, meaning no lifesaving measures were to be taken if he stopped breathing.
Family members decided to allow doctors to change medication to allow for a peaceful death. The family was told by doctors that the alteration would lower Scott’s blood pressure and eventually it would be as if he died in his sleep.
The family held off taking the action until Howell arrived at the hospital, said Emma Owens, Scott’s mother.
Although she said she knew about the pact between the two men, she never believed Howell would go through with it.
”He pulled out that tube and let him suffocate,” Owens said. ”He was going to die anyway. But even if it was only 15 minutes difference, he killed him. He murdered him.”
Howell tried to make two collect calls to her from jail over the weekend, but Owens said she did not accept them.
Howell was a professional bull rider and stunt man who sometimes stayed with Scott at his Lake Elsinore home, said Scott’s estranged wife, Terie Scott. The two men had been friends for more than 20 years.
Scott was paralyzed and lost most of the use of his arms 23 years ago when he fell from a rope bridge while serving as a drill sergeant in the Marine Corps, his mother said.