Saturday, August 31, 2002

Sex abuse charges total 65

Howell won't take plea; opts for jury

By Jim Hannah,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Accused child molester Larry Eugene Howell was indicted on a 65th charge of sexual abuse on Friday, and a first-degree sodomy charge, bringing his total number of sodomy charges to 46 and total number of alleged victims to nine.

        But Mr. Howell, 41, has indicated he would rather try his chances before a jury than accept a plea agreement that would keep him behind bars for at least eight years.

        His attorney said Friday that the former carnival worker will plead not guilty to the latest charge Sept. 9.

        Mr. Howell, who was shot in the groin by the angry mom of an alleged victim, has repeatedly denied the charges against him.

        “Larry has said he did not molest these boys,” said Attorney John Delaney, of the public advocacy's office in Covington. “And quite frankly, when I go through discovery, I'm finding discrepancies.”

        Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Bill Crockett describes the case as “straightforward” and says he has been prepared to bring it before a jury since March.

        But child advocates who specialize in child abuse cases say they are typically the most difficult to prosecute.

        “The child sexual abuse cases, in my opinion, are the hardest to prosecute,” said Attorney Anne Haynie of Louisville, who has prosecuted more than 500 such cases in her career. “It comes down to those children's words against the words of an adult. And often a jury is very reluctant to put someone in prison on what a child says happened.”

        Unlike a bank robbery where there is surveillance tape of the crime being committed, there usually is no physical evidence that a crime took place in a child molestation case. Ms. Haynie said prosecutors must not only prove the defendant is guilty, but that a crime really occurred.

        She said she usually starts with an anatomy and biology lesson to explain to the jury why there is no medical evidence and injuries to back up the abuse claims.

        Ms. Haynie then tries to corroborate other things the victims have said. For example, she will have the victim describe the bedroom where the abuse took place. She will then show a picture of the bedroom to a jury to illustrate the child was correct in the description.

        “All you have to work with is the children,” Ms. Haynie said. “So you have to look for things to corroborate what the child said.”

        Mr. Crockett said he is prosecuting Mr. Howell in connection to molesting eight boys, even though investigators early on said Mr. Howell might have victimized up to 30 boys. Ms. Haynie said this move isn't uncommon.

        “Trying to prosecute the weak (allegations) doesn't enhance the penalty,” she said. “Why muddy up the case when the end result is the same?”

        Under Kentucky law, the sentence on each count cannot run consecutively. In addition, Ms. Haynie said the law is very clear that the penalty for these crimes cannot be greater than 70 years.

        The penalty for first-degree sodomy, the most serious sex crime Mr. Howell is charged with, is 20 to 50 years in prison or life.

        Under the complicated sentencing guidelines, a defendant sentenced to 20 to 50 years must serve 85 percent of his time before being eligible for parole. A defendant sentenced to life must serve 20 years before being eligible for parole.

        Mr. Crockett said he has made a plea agreement that he feels “protects the victims and community.” Mr. Crockett said he does not discuss the terms of the plea offers, but Mr. Howell has said in open court that he was offered a deal of 40 years in prison.

        Under the agreement Mr. Howell's attorney said his client would be eligible for parole after serving only 20 percent of his time, or eight years.

        “There is no guarantee my client would be released in eight years,” said Mr. Delaney. “It just means the parole board could consider releasing him in eight years. They may decide never to release him, or he might never get out. That's not much of a deal.”

        Mr. Crockett said he couldn't prove his case without the testimony of the nine alleged victims.

        “When the rubber hits the road, it is up to the kid,” Ms. Haynie said. “And sometimes we end up putting a lot of pressure on that child. The accused could have been a trusted friend of the family. They could have threatened the child. There are a lot of dynamics that can come into play.”

        Mr. Howell's case gained recognition when the mother of one of his alleged victims shot him in the groin just outside the Covington police station. Mr. Crockett will not say whether he brought charges against Mr. Howell for allegedly molesting the shooter's son.

        Mr. Howell has been in an isolation cell, under tightened security, in the Kenton County Detention Center since November 2001. He is being held in lieu of $250,000 cash bail. He had previously served 17 years and six months in Kentucky on various burglary charges.

        He was originally arrested last year by Erlanger Police and accused of molesting boys, whom he befriended by allowing them to camp and ride his four-wheeler at his home off Dixie Highway in Erlanger.

        The case has been delayed until Oct. 29 since Mr. Howell's originally court-appointed attorney underwent surgery.

        Nora Harlow, president of the Atlanta-based nonprofit The Stop Child Molestation Group, said law enforcement organizations are generally aggressive in prosecuting child molesters.

        “The times are political and people are tired of children being victimized,” said Ms. Harlow. “So the criminal justice system has got serious about prosecuting these cases.”

        In 2000, the most current statistics available, 1,285 of 3,040 cases of sexual offenses against minors reached to the prosecution stage in Kentucky, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

        The most serious of the cases were sent to circuit court. Of those cases, a guilty verdict was handed down in 82 percent of the cases, 12 percent of the cases were dismissed and a not-guilty verdict was reached in 3 percent.

        In district court, which handles only misdemeanor charges, the guilty rate was 68 percent, the not-guilty rate was 3 percent and the rate of dismissal was 28 percent.

        The percentages do not add up to 100 percent because the attorney general's office did not know the disposition of every case.

        The attorney general's office does not keep track of the most prolific child molesters, but in Northern Kentucky many consider Earl Bierman the most notorious child molester the region has seen.

        Mr. Bierman, a defrocked Northern Kentucky priest, received a 20-year prison sentence in 1993 after pleading guilty to 25 molestation charges involving six adolescent boys in the 1960s and '70s. But news reports at the time said Kentucky State Police were flooded with additional reports from alleged victims in Kenton, Campbell and Mason counties.


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