ELYRIA — A jury convicted John P. Howard on Tuesday of kidnapping, rape and intimidation charges for grabbing off the street a 13-year-old girl in Oberlin, sexually assaulting her and threatening to kill her and her family if she told anyone.
Howard, 70, looked startled by the verdict before he was taken into custody to await sentencing. He could get nearly two decades in prison when sentenced, likely in early February.
Howard was accused of confronting the girl, now 15, as she walked in Oberlin on March 27, 2011, and showing her a gun. He then ordered the girl to come back to his nearby home, where he groped and kissed her before forcing her to perform oral sex on him.
The girl had testified that Howard then forced her to the ground and engaged in sexual intercourse with her, but jurors cleared Howard of that rape charge.
The jurors, who deliberated part of the day Thursday, all day Friday and much of the day Tuesday, also cleared Howard of additional rape, intimidation and kidnapping charges that accused him of locking her in his house when she stopped there to try to sell him homemade jewelry earlier in 2011.
The girl told jurors that Howard groped, kissed her and forced her to perform oral sex on him before making her lie on the floor and engage in sexual intercourse.
Howard’s attorney, Michael Belcher, said after the verdict that he and his client were disappointed in the jury’s decision.
“We thought the evidence wasn’t there, but that’s what the jury system is for,” he said.
During the trial, Assistant County Prosecutor Chris Pierre had witnesses who reported that Howard’s DNA was found on the girl’s bra and that her DNA was found on a pair of Howard’s underwear inside his house. The underwear was discovered when police searched Howard’s home for evidence after the girl reported the March 27, 2011, sexual assault to her mother.
The victim said she managed to convince Howard that day to let her leave or her mother would come looking for her. She testified that before she left he told her to return the next day to help with “cleaning.”
Belcher painted a different picture of Howard during the trial and said it was the girl who had made advances toward his client. He said on the day the girl claimed Howard took her off the street, his client was inside cleaning his refrigerator.
Belcher had argued against Howard being locked up while awaiting sentencing, noting that his client had medical issues. Howard carried a small supplemental oxygen tank with him throughout the trial.
But county Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski agreed with Pierre’s argument that. given the severity of the charges against Howard and the fact that he had been convicted of threatening the victim in the past. it was better for Howard to be locked up.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.