A state appeals court panel on Monday overturned a man’s murder conviction for his live-in girlfriend’s killing at their Reseda apartment.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that the prosecutor’s argument was “misleading” in James W. Howard’s trial and that “some highly prejudicial evidence,” including Howard’s “rather detailed sex messages” with a transsexual man, was improperly admitted.
Howard was convicted in September 2013 of first-degree murder for the Feb. 2, 2012, killing of Sharilit Matthews, 41, whose body was found eight days later.
Along with the murder count, jurors found true an allegation that Howard had used a sharp weapon during the commission of the crime. He was sentenced in November 2013 to 56 years to life in state prison.
During his trial, Howard testified that he killed the woman in the heat of passion during an argument.
The appellate court panel – which sent the case back for a new trial on the murder count — found in its 24-page ruling that “there was certainly evidence to support a verdict of murder,” while there “was also evidence from which a verdict of voluntary manslaughter could have been reached.”
“In this case, we are at a loss to conceive of any sort of tactical reason defense counsel may have had for failing to object to the prosecutor’s repeated oral and written misstatements of the standard for provocation necessary for voluntary manslaughter … If the jury accepted the prosecutor’s interpretation of the voluntary manslaughter standard, a murder conviction was guaranteed,” the appellate court panel found.
— City News Service