Howard testifies: He admits to striking Ahmed and dragging him across streetLeron Lee Howard admitted Tuesday to striking Abdi Ali Ahmed twice on the head in the early morning hours of April 30, 2011. Ahmed’s body was found about noon that day in a road ditch near Spiritwood.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
By Keith Norman
The Jamestown Sun
Leron Lee Howard admitted Tuesday to striking Abdi Ali Ahmed twice on the head in the early morning hours of April 30, 2011. Ahmed’s body was found about noon that day in a road ditch near Spiritwood.
Howard, 35, of Jamestown, testified in his own defense in Southeast District Court. He is charged with murder and criminal conspiracy in the death of Ahmed. Ahmed died of blunt force trauma to the head and also had stab wounds to the abdomen.
“I hit him twice,” Howard testified. “I kicked him, he kicked back and I drug him across the street.”
Steve Mottinger, Howard’s court-appointed defense attorney, said this action was consistent with manslaughter during closing statements.
“He is taking full responsibility for hitting him in the head twice and kicking him,” he said. “Take a look at those (jury) instructions. That is manslaughter.”
Manslaughter is defined as causing death by a reckless act. Murder is defined as intentionally causing death. The murder and criminal conspiracy charges Howard faces are Class AA felonies punishable by life in prison without parole. Manslaughter is a Class B felony punishable by 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Howard testified for about 3 1/2 hours Tuesday. Mottinger asked questions leading Howard through the events leading to Ahmed’s death.
Howard said the day before the incident, Janelle Cave had cashed her income tax refund check. Cave, Howard and Alexa Stoller, Cave’s and Howard’s roommate, traveled to Delmonte and Roberta Jones’ home at Spiritwood. There, Howard testified, Cave paid Delmonte Jones $500 for marijuana.
Cave was convicted in February of manslaughter and criminal conspiracy in the same case. She is serving an 11-year sentence.
Howard testified Cave picked up Howard and Ahmed outside the Corner Bar in Jamestown about midnight. The three traveled to a house party near Jamestown College before returning to the trailer where Cave and Howard lived.
Shortly after arriving at the trailer, Cave and Ahmed got into an argument, Howard said.
“They were fussing and shouting,” Howard testified. “He owed her money for weed, or something like that. They kept arguing and she asked him to leave.”
The argument proceeded outdoors.
“She was in the middle still arguing,” Howard said. “Out the front door and across the street. I got involved because it looked like Abdi was going to put his hands on her. My first reaction was to hit him.”
Howard described the blows as a left and a right that knocked Ahmed to the ground. Howard grew angry when Ahmed kicked back when he was kicked. He then dragged Ahmed by the feet across the street to where Cave’s car was parked in front of the garage next to the trailer home Cave and Howard shared.
“After I drug him I had a conversation with him,” Howard said. “He was mumbling so I said I’d fix him up with some weed.”
Howard said he lifted Ahmed off the ground and placed him the backseat of Cave’s car. Cave then drove Howard and Ahmed to the Jones’ home. Along the way Howard testified Ahmed made a hand sign requesting a cigarette, which Howard lit and gave him.
Howard said he and Cave went into the Jones’ home. Delmonte Jones and Cave smoked a marijuana cigarette but Howard did not. They did not talk about Ahmed with Jones.
Howard described Jones in his testimony as his “source” for marijuana.
Mottinger asked Howard if there was ever any intent to hurt Ahmed.
“No plan to hurt him,” he said, breaking down. “I regret hitting him.”
Howard said that as they left the Jones’ home Cave stopped the vehicle and said she wanted Ahmed out of the car.
“I grabbed him and threw him out,” Howard said. “Before I got him all the way out of the car he was mumbling. Janelle came around the car and stabbed him.”
Howard testified he had not seen Cave bring the sword used to stab Ahmed.
“We got in the car and I looked back,” Howard said. “I saw him trying to get up.”
The sword was one of the topics of Fremgen’s closing argument.
“There are some things no one wants to admit,” Fremgen said. “No one wants to admit they brought the sword because that would be bad for them.”
Fremgen also said Howard dragging Ahmed indicated a willful act.
“Dragging is intent to do harm,” he said.
Fremgen also defended Jones’ participation in the case.
“He didn’t have to come back and ask the cops if it was a stabbing or shooting,” he said. “He assisted significantly and there is no indication he lied.”
Mottinger asked the jury to put aside concerns about Howard’s lifestyle.
“At every opportunity they’ve chosen to elicit testimony about his life and lifestyle,” he said. “Multiple girlfriends, one pregnant, one not, maybe another pregnant. You don’t have to like his lifestyle. He is not on trial for that — don’t hold it against him.”
Mottinger’s closing argument stressed that this incident was a tragedy.
“There has been a loss to the community. A young man is dead and there is no excuse for his demise,” he said. “I ask you to return a verdict of guilty to the lesser included charge of manslaughter,” he said.
Closing arguments wrapped up about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Jury deliberation is scheduled to begin today after brief instructions from Judge Thomas Merrick.
The jury will initially consider the murder and criminal conspiracy charges. If Howard is found not guilty of murder the jury would then consider the charge of manslaughter.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org