Post by Joanna on Jul 8, 2018 7:44:08 GMT -5
Man Hires Hitman to Kill Wife, She Forgives Him
On the morning of Saturday, August 18, 2012, she headed to the First Baptist church in Carrollton, Texas, not far from her home. There was a women’s tea and Nancy Howard was hosting two tables. Her husband Frank had helped her pack the decorations into her car before he’d left on a business trip a few nights earlier. After tea, she went home before returning to church for the baptism service of a family friend. By the time she left church the second time, just before 7:30 in the evening, it was raining and she didn’t notice a silver Nissan was following her.
On the way home, Nancy stopped at Taco Bueno and picked up a steak fajita dinner in the drive-through. Then the 53-year-old mother of three adult children drove to the family’s immaculate two-story brick home on Bluebonnet Way, where she was planning to relax in front of the TV. She pulled into the garage and got out of her car, carrying her purse and the Taco Bueno bag. That’s when she felt someone grab her around the neck and put a gun to her head.
She heard the young man demand her purse, but the words didn’t register. She wrestled away, turning to face him and the seriousness of the moment caught up with her. A man she’d never seen before stood in front of her. He had facial hair, appeared to be in his 20s and was wearing a black baseball cap and holding a silver-looking gun. Give me your purse!” he repeated.
In a moment of panic, Nancy tried to give him her purse, but handed him the Taco Bueno bag instead. She could see he was getting angry and shoved the purse at him with both hands, pushing him back a step. Then he lifted the gun and pointed it at her face. Before he pulled the trigger, she cried out: “Jesus, save me!”
A .380 caliber bullet entered her left temple, traveled through her sinus cavity, down her throat and settled in her right lung. The man ran away with her purse, leaving the bag of food on the rain-soaked driveway and Nancy bleeding on the garage floor.
To Have and to Hold. Frank Howard broke down in tears when told his wife had been shot. They had met at church in San Marcos. Frank had a deep, gentle voice and piercing eyes. He had been married briefly in college and Nancy had attended the ceremony, but things didn’t work out. Nancy had a great voice and violet eyes that some compared to those of Elizabeth Taylor’s. Frank’s father, a Baptist preacher, married them in 1983. Their first daughter, Ashley, came two years later. The family moved to the suburbs of Dallas, eventually settling in Carrollton, where they found a good school district and church they liked. They had two more kids, Jay and Brianna, and established a comfortable life together.
Frank was an accountant who shared his small firm with a business partner. They had offices in Addison – decorated by Nancy – and more than 500 clients. Nancy called herself a “domestic engineer.” In addition to cooking and cleaning and keeping her husband’s schedule, for more than 20 years, she made sure their three children made it to school on time and to their various activities. She also served on the PTA and volunteered on most of her children’s school field trips. Together, Frank and Nancy hosted one of the church’s youth groups and sang in the choir on Sundays. Their son Jay would later tell people, “If the doors to First Baptist were open, my parents were probably inside.”
However, the marriage wasn’t perfect. Nancy struggled with depression and the chronic pain of fibromyalgia and at one point, Frank had a bout with prostate cancer. While their health problems were stressful, the couple seemed to come through them with a stronger bond. They discussed any major business moves or large purchases and worried Frank’s new Lexus might be too flashy. They worked together to present a united front for their children. Nancy told people that she’d raised her kids to “love, honor and respect their dad.” When their youngest, Brianna, graduated high school a few years back, Nancy looked forward to their “empty-nester years” and hoped she and Frank could rekindle the spark they’d known early in their relationship.
The New Client. In May 2009, Frank told Nancy he’d be taking on a new client that would likely necessitate more travel. She was surprised that he hadn’t consulted her first. Frank countered by saying he hoped he’d still be able to make her happy.
The new client was Richard Raley, a Colleyville businessman who had made millions on Department of Defense contracts, supplying ice to troops in Iraq. His longtime accountant had recently died and Raley needed help bringing more than $30 million from Kuwait to the United States. He offered Frank office space in Grapevine, the use of his private jet and eventually made the accountant his chief financial officer.
That summer, Nancy went on a mission trip to Africa with Brianna. It was a chance to spend time together with her daughter before she headed out of state to attend college. But when they got back and Frank picked them up at the airport, Nancy noticed something about her husband had changed, though she couldn’t put her finger on it. Frank was rarely emotional, but on the way home that day, he burst into tears. At the time, he claimed he broke down because of the death of a close family friend.
Soon Frank was traveling all the time. He was in Florida, then California, then Europe or Kuwait. He’d call or communicate via email, but Nancy was alone for long stretches and wasn’t happy about it. She’d never met Richard Raley, but believed Frank’s new client was tearing their marriage apart.
The Other Woman. Suzanne Leontieff, a dental hygienist in her early 50s from Santa Cruz, California, had blonde hair, a youthful face and a perky, high-pitched voice. Her two daughters played competitive softball and she traveled with them to tournaments all over California. On the weekend of July 25, 2009, – while Nancy was in Africa – Suzanne was at a tournament in Lake Tahoe. Killing time between games, she decided to hit the tables at a casino called Harveys, where she met a man who introduced himself as Frank and said he was in town on business. He seemed nice, with a deep, gentle voice and a head full of thick, black hair. After drinking and talking for half-an-hour or so, she excused herself, but saw him after dinner at a different table. They gambled together a few hours that night and when she walked through the same area the following day, he was there again. By Sunday, they had exchanged phone numbers and he was asking if she had any plans for the next weekend. Suzanne was married, but separated and working on her divorce. She knew Frank was married, too, but he claimed it wasn’t going well, telling her he “just hadn’t been happy,” but wasn’t “miserable” either.
They talked on the phone and texted throughout the week and the following weekend, he invited her to meet him in Reno. They went to another casino and talked and drank as they walked about sightseeing. She had her own room that weekend, but spent a lot of time in his. They discussed the man she was leaving and Frank’s wife, Nancy. A week after they met, Suzanne said, Frank was “constantly” talking about divorce. A few weeks later, as he was creating holding corporations to move Richard Raley’s money, Frank named three of the companies for Suzanne. One was called SLH, as in “Suzanne Leontieff-Howard,” what her name would be if the two were married.
They kept talking, seeing each other every few weeks, but it went beyond that. He paid for softball tournaments and helped pay for Suzanne’s oldest daughter’s college. He rented – and then bought – a boat for $30,000 and in January 2010, he paid $900,000 cash for a house for Suzanne in Santa Cruz, then purchased a Tahoe condo worth almost $380,000.
There were trips, too. He took Suzanne to a Mavs game in 2010 and a Steelers game in Pittsburgh. The following year, he took her to the Super Bowl. Suzanne and her daughters then accompanied him to a Giants game in San Francisco, after which they all spent a week in the Bahamas. (She told her children Frank was separated.) When he could, Frank flew her on the private jet. When he couldn’t, he paid for Suzanne’s commercial flights, hotel rooms and food. And he always stayed with her, even when she came to Dallas.
Frank started an IRA for Suzanne and sent her a check for $500,000 and a wire transfer for $200,000. When her divorce became official and she lost her health insurance, he added her to the Raley’s company payroll. He even kept a framed photo of her in his office from a helicopter trip they had taken.
In Search of a Hitman. Billie Earl Johnson was a thin, wiry man in his 50s with a goatee and tattoos on his arms, chest and neck. He had an affinity for motorcycles and methamphetamines and had spent more than a quarter of his life behind bars. When he was released in February 2009, his younger brother, Chris, was waiting for him, ready to take him home to East Texas, where there were tall pines and plenty of rusty truck-stop towns.
Chris and his wife set Billie up with a woman who worked with them at Van Tone, a flavor manufacturing company in Terrell. When the woman broke up with Billie in July 2009, he didn’t take it well. He phoned her at all hours, including the middle of the night, and harassed and threatened her. She worried that Billie might show up at her place of work, as he had done in the past, and she asked the people at Van Tone to be on alert. Within a few weeks, though, he’d found a new lady friend and a new set of troubles.
Billie claimed he was at home in the town of Ben Wheeler, lying on the couch, when his phone rang. His new girlfriend, Stacey Serenko, a convenience-store clerk, was in the kitchen. The man on the phone introduced himself as John and told Billie he’d heard of him and was hoping he might help with a job. The job? He needed someone to kill his wife. “I raised straight up off the couch,” Billie remembered.
Looking back years later, wearing ankle cuffs and a county-issued jumpsuit, Billie insisted he never intended to kill anyone. He just wanted to string this guy along for money. He agreed to meet “John” outside a Sheplers Western Wear store in Mesquite. When Billie showed up, there was only one other car there, a grey Lexus. Billie got out of his truck and into the passenger seat of the man’s car. John passed Billie a brown envelope containing $60,000 cash, along with a photo of Nancy Howard, and instructed him to make it look like an accident.
Back in East Texas, Billie was generous with his windfall. Everywhere he went, he paid for drinks, bought dinner or handed out $100 bills. A lot of the money he spent on drugs. He and Stacey partied for several days straight, a period now fixed in their memories as a blur of shopping and meth-fueled sex. Soon he was arrested and charged with possession. What was left of the cash, the police confiscated. When Billie bonded out of jail two days later, he called John and told him he needed more money. Stacey noticed how soft-spoken and well-mannered John seemed. “A very nice man,” she observed. “Very kind.” Still, the first chance she got, she sent a picture of the man in the Lexus to her confused mother. “If something happens to me,” Stacey wrote, “I wanted that photo to live on.”
Their second meeting took place at a Texaco station off Interstate 635, where Billie said John gave him an additional $35,000. Billie spent this money just as he’d spent the first payment and before long, he was broke and back in jail. He had a colorful way of describing how he burned through the cash. “I would wipe ass,” he pauses. “I went through it the way a kid goes through diapers.”
Charlie Louderman, a tall, intimidating man with broad shoulders and thick arms was the kind of guy who would say with authority, “I know what blood looks like,” and describe what it feels like to get hit in the head with brass knuckles. He lived at the end of a dead-end road in Mineola, where he could see who was coming from a long way off. He grew up with a friend of Billie Earl Johnson’s, but the first time he met Billie was a few years before in his driveway. Billie rode up on a purple chopper wearing black chaps and a bandanna around his neck. He asked Charlie if he could help him get some guns. Billie also offered him $700 a week to work as a bodyguard and a runner of sorts. So for months, he was an up-close witness to the chaos and misadventures of Billie and his band of East Texas misfits.
Charlie said he often went with Billie to pick up large sums of cash, always from this mysterious chap called John. They met outside a Walmart and in a corporate parking garage and at a Grandy’s. Charlie recalled counting out $83,000 on his bedroom floor once. He watched as Billie traded stacks of money for bags of meth. He said Billie told him early on that he was a hitman but said Billie claimed to be targeting a gang member who had raped someone’s daughter. “When I found out it was a woman, I said, ‘I’m not doing that,’” Charlie alleged.
When Billie eventually introduced Charlie and John via speaker phone, Charlie accused the benefactor – the man Billie identified as his client – of being an undercover officer, then a drug dealer and finally labeled him a “chickenshit.” He also heard John plot ways to kill Nancy. He and Billie both remembered John’s telling them to make it look like a home burglary. John assured them there would be $40,000 worth of jewelry for the taking and they could set the house on fire afterward to cover their tracks. John worried, though, about the fire possibly spreading to a neighbor’s home. John also advised them Nancy regularly met her friends for lunch at a favorite spot and suggested firing an automatic weapon at the group, shooting the first few rounds at Nancy, then “spraying around” to confuse the authorities. Or perhaps they could do it during her book club or her scrap-booking retreat.
Every time they got a plan in place, though, something went wrong. Either Stacey slowed them down, or they got too wasted to leave the hotel room. Or they were in jail. Each time, Billie had a new excuse for John, who was naturally growing increasingly frustrated. At one point, Stacey recalled, someone asked John why he wanted his wife killed: “Is it something legal, or is it something personal?”
“A little bit of both,” he replied.
By late 2010, John was using a hard-to-trace burner phone and delivering money to Billie via wire transfers. However, Billie and Stacey didn’t have bank accounts, so he recruited family members – Billie’s children and Stacey’s mother – offering to let them keep between 10 and 20 percent of everything that went through their accounts. It was $75,000 to one of Billie’s sons, then $20,000 to Stacey’s mom, over and over again for two years. More than $750,000 total. This was in addition to what Billie estimated to be about $1 million in cash and another $1 million in bail bonds.
Billie bought himself a decked-out Chevy Avalanche and his daughter a Firebird. He bought each of his three kids motorcycles and go-karts for his grandkids. He talked about saving up enough to open a shop. He purchased a boat and camper and paid for countless motel rooms where they would party. He also bought Charlie a riding lawnmower and “numerous assault weapons.”
But Billie could be as destructive as he was generous. During one meth- and coke-fueled fight with Stacey, he videotaped himself firing an AK-47 at a motorcycle until it caught fire. Then he sent the video to Stacey’s son, Dustin. Another time, he smashed his daughter’s windshield and dragged his own $80,000 chopper in circles behind his truck. Stacey claimed he also beat her on multiple occasions. When he was arrested – which was often – he had John wire the bond companies directly.
At one point, Billie and Stacey were arrested at a Best Western in Wood County with more than $10,000 in cash and enough meth for felony trafficking charges. While she was in jail, Stacey told an FBI agent about the elaborate plot to kill Nancy Howard. “It was such an outlandish story,” she said later, “people didn’t really believe it.”
Charlie Louderman informed authorities of the plot, too. During a stint in the Wood County jail, he described how Billie was milking John and how eager this rich guy was to have his wife murdered. Nobody believed him either.
By the end of 2011, Billie was out of jail and offering to pay cash for his older brother’s funeral. When his sister and nephews came in from California, they were impressed by how much money Billie had, despite his lack of employment. By early 2012, his sister’s son, Michael Speck, had moved to Texas to get in on the gravy train.
After more than two years of mishaps and delays and payments, it was becoming more difficult to put off John. And by this time, Billie had close to a dozen people in his cabal of miscreants, most related through blood or marriage. “It started with just me and Stacey,” Billie said. “It ended up a whole nest of people.”
In late May 2012, Billie arranged a meeting with John at the Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine, but much to Billie’s chagrin, Stacey invited Michael and her son, Dustin. John concocted a plan with Michael that involved tracking Nancy on a trip to San Marcos. He offered to pay them the $100,000 life insurance policy and $5,000 a week for the remainder of their lives. Billie was quiet during most of the meeting, seething because other people were obtaining access to his golden goose. But before anyone could go to San Marcos, Billie and Stacey were arrested again. This time, when Stacey called John from jail, he couldn’t come up with the money to get them out. “I know I’m not going to last long in here,” she told him, crying on the recorded jail line. “We can still make it happen if I’m out tomorrow. Everything is still ready. It will still go forward.”
After Billie and Stacey were arrested, her son, Dustin, moved in with Billie’s nephew Michael, the one who had moved from California to get in on the action. This was when Dustin, then 18, tried meth for the first time. He was a lanky kid with a Southern drawl and ninth-grade education. According to Billie, he was “so stupid, he doesn’t know how to put antifreeze in a pickup truck.”
With his mom and her boyfriend in jail, Dustin began contacting John directly, initially concerning bail money, but before long, John was asking him to do the deed himself. On the Fourth of July, Dustin met with John and was handed $24,000. John said Nancy would soon be staying at the Gaylord Texan hotel for a Mothers of Preschoolers convention and suggested Dustin use a baseball bat.
Dustin returned to East Texas and promptly spent the money just as Billie would have done. He bought a big bag of meth and spent the night sharing it with strangers. He also wished every person he saw a happy Independence Day with a handful of Ben Franklins and filled his Facebook profile with selfies holding stacks of money. At one point, he claimed, several thousand dollars blew off the hood of his car into a church parking lot. Within two weeks, all the money was gone and Dustin asked John for more. John said he’d leave some cash by a water meter behind a house he owned. Dustin brought a friend named Jason Rendine with him on the trip from East Texas to Carrollton, but they were both high and became hopelessly lost. They spent hours driving through Nancy’s neighborhood, stopping at several houses. Soon they were pulled over and asked to step out of the car. Dustin was nervous and stammered that he was looking for his uncle’s house. Then he said it was his step-dad’s house. Then he told the officer it was just a family friend that they all called John. Finally, he blurted out that he was a hitman who had been hired to kill a man’s wife.
The two would-be hitmen were taken to the Carrollton police station and a report was filed. However, officers figured the hitman stuff was just the crazy ramblings of a meth head and Dustin was released a day later. But his friend Jason believed him and when he got out of jail and returned to his very angry wife, Stephanie, he told her what he’d heard and showed her a phone number he’d copied off a piece of paper. “You’ll never believe where Dustin is getting his money,” he teased.
Soon Stephanie had a plan. They invented aliases – Wes and Tiffany – and called the number. They told John they knew all about his scheme and if he didn’t pay them, they would go to the cops. John agreed to meet them at a Whataburger in Garland. He showed up in a dark Lexus and gave Jason (or Wes) an envelope with 30 $100 bills. Within a day or two, they met again and John gave them $12,000. A few days after that, he wire-transferred them another $20,000.
But then something happened that Jason and his wife hadn’t anticipated. John started calling them. He was persistent and wanted to talk to Wes (Jason). He wanted to know if they knew anyone who could get the job done. Stephanie said John offered them a $50,000 finder’s fee and $100,000 to the person who did the deed. So she dyed her hair black and presented herself to John as Tiffany’s sister, Stephanie (using her real name). She got another $10,000 in cash. Later, an attorney would ask Stephanie about this interaction with skepticism. “Do you really think he’s that stupid?” the lawyer inquired.
“He is!” she exclaimed without hesitating.
Misti Ford, 32-years-old and living in Hemet, California, dyed her hair a dark shade of red and sported both nose and lip piercings. In 2012, she was engaged to a man named Michael Lorence, whom she had met a few years before he went to jail. When he got out, they moved in together and Michael told her about one of his cellmates, a man named Michael Speck – two Michaels in jail together and one of them was Billie’s nephew.
Phone records indicated that while John was in touch with Dustin, Jason and Stephanie, he was also communicating with Michael Speck. When Billie called John from jail at the end of July 2013 in search of bail money, John told him he had given the last of his money to Michael. In the recording, Billie quickly reiterated, “I need some money.”
“That’s part of my problem,” John replied. “I’m still cut off from everything I’ve got going on. What happened to Michael? I gave him a bunch of money.”
At this point, it was obvious Billie was getting upset. “How much you give him?”
“I don’t even know anymore. It’s been so long,” John replied.
“I ain’t heard nothing from him on nothing!”
“I told him – I said, ‘This is the last I got,’” John continued. “And he said he’d go take care of everything.”
The Hit. On August 14, Michael Speck sent $1,000 to his old cellmate, Michael Lorence, and told him and Misti to come to East Texas. Misti thought the point of the trip was for her fiancé to ask Michael to be the best man at their wedding. They drove Misti’s Honda and made it in around 24 hours. Because the Honda had a janky tire, they rented a car when they arrived – a silver Nissan.
Misti claimed she and Lorence spent most of the trip at Michael’s house, hanging out with his extended family. On August 18, she said, Michael and Lorence left the house early, telling her they were taking the car to Dallas to do some “sightseeing and side jobs” – just two Michaels headed to the big city together.
Misti spent the day fiddling around on Facebook and passing time talking to the strangers with whom she was stuck. She remembered it was nearly midnight when the boys got back. They had returned with alcohol and commenced drinking. She claimed she noticed something different about her fiancé, who wasn’t much of a drinker, but consumed quite a bit of alcohol that night. He was also abnormally quiet, unusual for the talkative Lorence. “Usually he doesn’t shut up,” she said.
When they were alone in a bedroom later, he reportedly told her he had murdered someone. He said he’d shot a woman in the face. Upset, Misti left the house and went for a walk alone. Lorence stayed and continued drinking.
It was almost two months before Misti told Lorence she didn’t want to marry him, but she didn’t talk to Carrollton police until January 2013. A friend whom she’d told had tipped off police. Misti was afraid, saying, “I was scared of the same thing happening to me.”
John wanted his wife dead, so he called Billie. Billie had a nephew named Michael, who did time with another Michael, last name Lorence. It appears it was the second Michael who at long last did John’s bidding.
Nancy wasn’t sure how long she lay unconscious in her garage. She claimed she heard God’s voice calling to her: “Get up!” she heard Him say. “Get up!” Heeding the Lord’s command, she pulled herself up using a metal table, but fell back onto the floor, so she decided to crawl. “Kind of like you might see army men crawling,” she recalled. Her phone was in her purse, which was gone, so she crawled toward her car with the intent of using her OnStar button. She opened the door and hoisted herself up, leaving bloody hand prints on everything she touched. Finally, she got close enough to push the button, but without the keys – also in her purse – it didn’t work.
She slipped in her own blood, but managed to walk into the house. In the laundry room, she paused in front of a mirror and saw a horrific image staring back at her. Her face was covered in blood and bits of torn flesh. Her sparkly purple blouse was beginning to turn brown and where she expected to see her left eye, there was a gaping, gushing wound. She managed to dial 911 and howled into the phone: “Lord Jesus, help me! Oh my God, help me!” She told the dispatcher she’d been shot, gave her address and begged the voice at the other end to stay on the line with her. She was still conscious, waiting at the door, when the police and ambulance arrived.
An officer who knew the family through church called Nancy’s children. Ashley called her father, who was at a Reno casino with Suzanne. She was gambling and he was at the bar, watching a Cowboys preseason game. When Ashley told him her mother had been shot, Frank began to cry. He collapsed by the casino door and was unable to walk without Suzanne’s assistance. She drove him to the airport, but there were no more flights to Dallas that night. He called Richard Raley, explained the situation and asked if he could use the private jet, but Raley’s pilots were already back in Texas.
Eventually, Suzanne made the four-hour drive to the San José airport, where Frank caught the first flight out in the morning. As soon as he landed, he rushed to his wife’s bedside.
He didn’t tell police about his paramour, but when they checked his phone, they knew. Over the next week, he had a series of painful talks with his children and with Nancy, who was still in the hospital. He told them that he’d been having an affair and it had been going on for more than three years. But he maintained that he had nothing to do with the shooting. Nancy, still heartbroken by the news of the affair, believed him. When police showed up at the house and arrested her husband, she insisted there had been a terrible mistake.
None of Nancy’s neighbors had seen or heard anything that night, so it took time to unravel the Coen brothers-esque tale of greed and ineptitude. With surveillance footage from the church, police could see the silver Nissan follow Nancy out of the parking lot.
Carrollton detectives were eventually given the police report from the night Dustin was pulled over in Nancy’s neighborhood and claimed to be a hitman. They brought him down to the station, and, during three days of interrogation, he shared everything he knew about the twisted murder-for-hire plot. Police also got word from the jail that an inmate named Billie Earl Johnson was claiming to have information about the shooting.
Police Arrest Frank. Detectives were shown the picture of the money man everyone knew as John – the photo Stacey had sent to her mother as insurance. Of course, detectives recognized the man in the grey Lexus as Frank – full name John Franklin Howard.
It turned out, the flavor company, Van Tone, was one of Frank’s longtime clients. He’d drive out every few weeks to do the books, often working directly with the woman Billie had been scaring. At some point that year, Frank had asked around for Billie’s number, promising that he’d be able to stop the harassment.
Finally, when Misti Ford told detectives what she knew, police could connect the silver Nissan to Michael Speck and Michael Lorence, who were both in the Denton County jail. The two were originally charged with aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit capital murder, but Lorence had since been re-indicted for aggravated assault only.
The accusations shocked people who knew Frank. He’d always seemed so trustworthy. “We thought he was the epitome of a good Christian man,” is the way Nancy’s aunt put it. During his bond hearing, the courtroom was packed with supporters.
While Frank was out on bail, his daughter Brianna got married. Because she wanted her daughter to have the wedding of her dreams, Nancy wrote to the court, asking if they could relax the conditions of Frank’s bail for one weekend, so he could attend. “It was hard,” Nancy admitted. “But it was a joyous time.”
Frank Howard’s trial took place in August 2014 and it was a family affair. His kin packed one side of the courtroom and Nancy’s packed the other side. There were at least 10 attorneys involved and dozens of witnesses, included, but not limited to, investigators, phone experts, motel managers and the 911 operator who took Nancy’s call the night she was shot. Nancy took the stand and spoke about how her marriage had soured. Suzanne Leontieff testified about her three-year affair with Frank. It was their first time in the same room since she’d driven him to the airport two years earlier. As she perched in the witness chair and giggled nervously, Nancy’s family shook their heads.
Billie Johnson and Stacey Serenko – both brought over from the jail – talked about receiving that first call and stringing the defendant along for more than two years and millions of dollars. Charlie Louderman, the man Billie had hired as a bodyguard, told the jury about listening to a man repeatedly plot his own wife’s murder. Dustin, Stephanie and Jason all testified as to their bizarre interactions before the shooting, their protracted cons and double cons, and the misery that money eventually brought them. And Misti Ford talked about driving from California to Texas with her fiancé and hearing the confession that changed the trajectory of her life.
The defense attorneys insisted Howard had been blackmailed and the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses left something to be desired. Ashley, Jay and Brianna each testified for their father, telling the jury what a kind and compassionate man they’d always known him to be. They weren’t in the room for the presentation of most of the evidence, but when they were, they sat on Frank’s side of the court room.
The trial lasted close to three weeks, but the jury needed only two hours to convict Frank Howard. During sentencing, Richard Raley took the stand. Wearing chains and orange scrubs – he was in jail on a prescription pill-related charge – Raley told the jury that over a three-year period, Frank had systematically embezzled more than $30 million from him. There was a representative from Van Tone in court, too, telling anyone who would listen about how Frank had stolen money from them as well. Prosecutors concluded that in addition to a growing disdain for his wife of nearly 30 years, Frank must have known that a divorce would expose his financial shenanigans.
Frank Howard was sentenced to life in prison. All three children were angry, leaving the court room without even saying goodbye to their mother.
Aftermath. Despite everything she has been through, Nancy has been able to forgive her husband – and even offered him forgiveness via her victim impact statement at trial. “I have forgiven him,” she insisted. “The Bible says that if we don’t forgive those who have harmed us, then we are unable to be forgiven and I couldn’t afford not to forgive him because I couldn’t live with bitterness.”
Nancy doesn’t know why her husband wanted her dead, but believes it was because he knew she would never agree to a divorce. “I had made that vow to the Lord that I was not going to divorce him,” she said. “So he began getting involved with [another woman], the next thing you know, he’s embezzling money because he’s trying to show her that he’s this rich man, and I think before long, he was in over his head. He really had no option but to have me shot.” In fact, Nancy did divorce her husband prior to his trial, but admitted that had he been acquitted, she would have been willing to rebuild their relationship and remarry him. “It’s because I still loved him at the time,” she continued, “and you know, I have to say I still love him, not in a romantic love, but in a love that he’s the father of my children and there’s always going to be a love there.”
Nancy has not seen or heard from Frank since he went to prison. Although she has thought about visiting him, for now, she is keeping her distance. But there is one question that preys on her mind which she would ask him if she could: “What happened to the marriage?” she wants to know. “What in the world even caused him to want to go astray and find another woman? I know the shooting should be the most devastating part of it, but that [the affair] has been the most devastating part.”
Nancy’s recovery has astonished her doctors. She has undergone numerous surgeries to rebuild her face and eye socket and been fitted with a prosthetic eye, which gets dry and sticks – and hurts. Every morning, she gets up and washes the eye to ease the pain. Additionally, she is no longer the touchy-feely woman she was prior to the attempt on her life because the nerve damage in her arm makes hugging others painful. Because the bullet went through her sinuses, she has lost her sense of smell and the majority of her sense of taste. But she hasn’t allowed her misfortune to hold her back. She now works full-time in a law firm as a legal assistant. “I still have the bullet in my lung,” she said, “but I had lost the use of my right arm and hand and I now am able to use it and I type.” She also vigorously celebrates every birthday she’s had since the shooting and still enjoys singing in the church choir. Almost six years after the horrifying attack, she is moving on. “I’m able to be thankful once again for how God has saved my life and the healing that’s happening in my children’s lives. It’s awesome,” she insists. “I’m excruciatingly happy.”
Nancy’s story is recounted in the book The Shooting of Nancy Howard: A Journey Back to Shore by Alice Mathews.
Sources: Michael J. Mooney, D Magazine, December 2014; Lucy Wallis, BBC World Service, July 4, 2018; KLTV, June 28, 2012; and Rebecca Lopez, Matt Goodman and Monika Diaz, WFAA.