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Guilty verdict in Jonesboro attempted murder

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A 31-year-old Union City man, with a history of violence against women, has been found guilty by a Clayton County Superior Court jury of trying to stab to death his ex-girlfriend, and her 12-year-old daughter, according to a Clayton County assistant district attorney.

The jury found James Kelly Howard guilty, Thursday, on 11 counts, including charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime, and cruelty to children, said Noah Abrams, an assistant district attorney for the Clayton County District Attorney's Office's Crimes Against Women Division. Abrams was the lead prosecutor in the case.

The attempted murder happened on Nov. 6, 2009, at the woman's Jonesboro apartment, on Arrowhead Boulevard, according to the warrant for Howard's arrest.

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield handed down a 70-year prison sentence to the Union City man, according to Abrams.

"The people of Clayton County are safer now that he has been convicted, and sent to jail for a long time," Abrams said. The assistant district attorney later added that, "Just looking at his history of violent behavior, you can see his attacks have gradually become more brazen, and more violent."

Abrams said Howard had previously been convicted twice for violent encounters with ex-girlfriends. He was convicted on charges of false imprisonment and battery, in 2003, in DeKalb County, and was convicted again, this time in Carroll County, in 2006, on an aggravated battery, Abrams said. The assistant district attorney said Howard had already completed his sentences for those prior convictions before last November's attack occurred.

The most recent incident, the attack on the mother and daughter, happened because the mother just wanted out of her relationship with Howard, according to the assistant district attorney. "The victim told him that she wanted him to leave, and that she wanted to end their relationship," Abrams said. "Very chillingly, he said to her, 'Is that your final answer?' and she said 'Yes. It is, what it is,'" Abrams continued.

"He [Howard] then pulled out a folding knife, and proceeded to begin stabbing her. The daughter was in the living room, and began to scream, 'Don't hurt my mama.'

"He then pushed her [the daughter] to the floor, and proceeded to stab her in the leg, side, arm, and the elbow."

Abrams said the mother stopped Howard from further stabbing the youth, by wrestling Howard away from the youngster, and telling the child to run. The daughter ran out the door, and yelled for help, the prosecutor said. She caught the attention of some of her neighbors, who called 9-1-1, before she collapsed in a grassy area in front of the apartment, Abrams added.

While that was going on, Abrams said, Howard stabbed the mother two more times, once near one of her kidneys, and then once behind the left breast, near her heart, before he fled the scene. In all, the mother was stabbed six times, with the other four wounds being on her arms and legs, while the daughter was stabbed four times, according to the assistant district attorney.

"The amazing fact is that, despite her physical wounds, she [the mother] barricaded herself in her apartment after he left, because she was afraid he might come back," Abrams said. "She had been stabbed in the arm, in her abdomen, and in her chest, and she still pulled together the strength to push a pull-out couch across her living room, and block the door.

"It took two police officers kicking the door 15 times to get it open enough for them to get in the apartment."

The woman was transported to Atlanta Medical Center, while the daughter was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center, for treatment, Clayton County Police said, at the time of the incident.

Abrams said the outcome, for the mother, and the daughter, could have been different, if not for the efforts of the police officer and emergency medical technicians who responded to the attack. "They really -- but for the grace of God -- prevented a more grave outcome from happening," he said.

The prosecutor said that Howard, and the woman, had begun dating in March 2009. He added that the relationship between the couple had been "deteriorating" for some time, and just two weeks prior to the stabbing, Howard threatened to kill the mother and daughter. His exact threat to the mother, the assistant district attorney said, was that he was going to "crack your melon [head]."

Fights became commonplace in the relationship, and it just reached the point where the mother wanted out of it, Abrams said.

"He was exhibiting increasingly jealous, and controlling behavior, that was reaching the point where he was making accusations, and threats," Abrams said. "She had just had enough, and then this occurred."

Now, the mother and daughter have largely recovered physically, the prosecutor said, and they are just working on healing the emotional wounds of the attack.

"They don't like to talk about it," Abrams said. "They just want to put it behind them."

Howard's attorney, Neil Smith, could not be reached for comment.