With a swift pat on the back, Defense Attorney Rufus Sims gave Erick Howard one last piece of advice before police escorted him out of the courtroom today.
"Stay strong," Sims told Howard, who was just found guilty on several felony charges following a three day-long trial in Stark County Common Pleas Court.
A 12-member jury found Howard guilty on all counts — aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, rape and kidnapping, all carrying firearm specifications. He joined two others in tying up and robbing a North Canton couple in their home Aug. 20. Howard also raped the female victim.
He's slated to be sentenced at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Judge Taryn L. Heath's courtroom.
He faces 31 years in prison.
In Assistant County Prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett's , she said Howard was caught on tape at Wal-Mart buying supplies to use in .
There are incriminating phone records and firsthand accounts from .
And as the person who tied her up, robbed her and raped her in her bedroom, Hartnett said today during her closing arguments in Howard's trial.
"To believe it was someone other than Erick Howard in that room, you would have to believe the mother of all coincidences has occurred and the stars have aligned to make all these other things coincidental."
Hartnett presented her closing arguments about 12:45 p.m. today along with Sims. Jury began deliberating about 2:30 p.m. and returned a verdict about 6:15 p.m.
Howard, a grad and two-time Mr. Football recipient, is accused of breaking into the home of a young North Canton couple in 1100 block of Sunford Avenue, duct-taping their wrists and ankles and robbing them at gunpoint.
Hartnett refuted Sims' argument that Howard is too large to fit through the basement window, which is how accomplice Seth R. Obermiller got into the couple's townhouse. Obermiller testified this week that, like him, Howard had no difficulty getting into the home.
Sims asked several witnesses throughout the week how much they thought Howard weighed and whether a man of his size could fit through the window in question. According to testimony, the men had duct-taped over the window and knocked out the glass on half of it. The tape helped make a clean break and keep the glass together.
"Look at this," Sims said, holding up a photo of the window to show the jurors. "Are you serious? How's the torso get through? How's his shoulders get through? We submit to you folks it can't happen and it didn't happen."
Hartnett argued that although Howard is somewhat broad, he still is a limber athlete capable of maneuvering his body through a tight space — that's what he had to do as a football player. She called Sims' window argument a distraction.
"Don't be distracted — because this game is over for him," she said.
Jurors heard testimony from the male and female victims this week. Both said they believed it was two black men who broke into their apartment (Obermiller, who's been convicted and sentenced for robbing them, is actually white).
The female victim said she thought the smaller of the two men (Obermiller) was black because his skin showing through the ski mask looked like that of a lighter-skinned black man. The male victim said he thought the two were both black because of the dialect they used when talking to each other. Sims brought this discrepancy up during his closing argument.
He added that the female victim already was convinced it was Howard who robbed and raped her, even before she talked to a detective, because a friend told her he suspected Howard. That friend, Sims said, was holding a grudge against Howard because the two had gotten into a fight in high school.
The female victim later and play for her over the phone a Canton Repository YouTube video in which Howard was featured as player of the game. After only hearing the audio, she said that's how she knew for sure that Howard was responsible.
"Even prior to hearing the evidence, folks, (the victim) was aware of rumors being circulated," Sims said.
Howard had met the male victim for the first time a couple weeks before the incident, according to testimony. The three men plotted to rob the couple because knew the male victim, had bought marijuana off of him and knew where he lived, Taylor testified this week.
Sims said the Wal-Mart video, which Hartnett said clearly shows Howard buying gloves and walking out of the store, is actually not a clear representation of Howard. He's also wearing shorts and short-sleeves, while the victims described both men as wearing pants and long-sleeve shirts.
And the testimony from co-defendants Obermiller and Michael A. Taylor, who served as the lookout that night? Not credible, Sims said. The two were only looking out for themselves when they struck a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Obermiller pleaded guilty to kidnapping, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, with all charges accompanied by gun specifications, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Taylor, who said he originally planned to rob the couple that night but stayed outside the apartment instead, pleaded guilty to attempt to commit burglary. He'll spend three years on probation.
"All they had to do to seal the deal was deliver this guy," Sims said, pointing at Howard. "They got a deal in exchange for coming in here and testifying.
"You put a value of whatever you want on that."
NORTH CANTON PATCH TRIAL COVERAGE