The Erick Howard who , the Erick Howard who sat in shackles wearing a red jail jumpsuit and awaiting his sentence for a crime — it wasn't the Erick Howard that Don Hertler Jr. knew.
Hertler, head football coach for and friend of Howard, told Judge Taryn L. Heath about the young Erick Howard — a kid who got thrown into a detention center after fighting with someone who called him the N-word.
Howard's been fatherless since age 5 and has been a son to Hertler, who doesn't have kids of his own. Howard had spent nine months living with Hertler during his junior year of high school, when he began making a name for himself on the football field.
"Some kids need guidance more than others," Hertler said. "Erick was one of those kids."
Hertler and others spoke of Howard's good points Tuesday during his sentencing hearing. Heath doled out a 30-year sentence for Howard's involvement in an Aug. 20 home invasion and rape.
Howard, 20, of North Canton, broke into the a townhouse in the 1100 block of Sunford Avenue in North Canton in the early morning of Aug. 20. He and another man tied up a young couple with duct tape, and Howard raped the female resident by inserting a gun or his fingers in her vagina before leaving with their cash and cellphones.
A of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, rape and kidnapping, all carrying firearm specifications, after a three-day trial last week. Co-defendants Seth R. Obermiller, who helped rob the couple, and Michael A. Taylor, who served as the lookout that morning, both testified against Howard as part of a plea agreement.
Howard, a two-time Mr. Football recipient and all-star football player, appeared in Stark County Common Pleas Court along with Defense Attorney Rufus Sims that day.
Hertler said Howard never was disrespectful to his teachers, nor was he boastful about his football success. What's more, he hadn't been in trouble other than his scuffle in middle school.
He said he hoped Howard could see his two children grow up and be released from prison and help others — something he's meant to do.
"I know our car rides. I know our experiences. I know our talks. And I know the passion in his heart to help people."
Howard addressed the judge before she read his sentence and told her he's sorry for the hurt he's cause the victims and everyone else involved in the attack.
"It's my fault," he said. "There's no one else to blame."
After reading his sentence of 30 years in prison, Heath said Howard also will be classified as a Tier III sex offender and, upon release from prison, will spend five years on probation for each first-degree felony offense (three offenses) and three years on probation for the kidnapping charge.
"(You've shown) no moral compass regarding your behavior," Heath said, adding that Howard not only robbed the couple that morning, but he robbed the female victim of her dignity.
Heath said the court could have sentenced Howard to 50 years in prison.
Here's how Howard's 30-year sentence breaks down: He received eight years in prison on each count of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, rape and kidnapping. The first three run consecutively to one another, while the sentence for kidnapping runs concurrently. Heath merged four fire arm specifications into two.
NORTH CANTON PATCH TRIAL COVERAGE