Dani's death: Jury hears haunting last messages, deliberates

Seen here in a family photo, Danielle Howard was only 22 at the time of her death.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HOWARD FAMILY

The jury deciding the fate of the teen accused of killing Katherine Danielle Howard deliberated for two hours today before adjourning to continue Friday.

Defendant Gary Christopher "G-Money" Johnson, 19, faces four felony counts in the 2006 slaying of Dani Howard, 22, on a Gordonsville street.

Dani's drug-dealer boyfriend, Curtis "L.A." Waldron, was the first witness December 11. "I hope to get justice for Dani," said 33-year-old Waldron, who sported black-and-white prison stripes for a drug trafficking conviction in Pennsylvania. He admitted to being a two-kilo-a-week dealer who also hoped his cooperation would result in sentencing leniency.

Waldron described how he brought into their Shenandoah Crossing home the two men who were present the night Dani was shot. The defendant is Waldron's cousin, who often referred to him as "uncle" because of their differences in age. G-Money, then 16, "was basically on the street" in New York where he lived, said Waldron.

The other was Justin "Trigger" Harris, a friend of Waldron's who had walked away from a work-release program in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he lived and where Waldron previously resided. "He asked me if he could come with me to Shenandoah Crossing to get himself together," said Waldron.

Before leaving to go back to Harrisburg to buy a car for Dani on February 21, 2006, Waldron had chewed out his young cousin for not working on his GED and not doing the dishes. "I told him if he didn't shape up, he'd have to ship out to New York," testified Waldron.

While Waldron stayed in Pennsylvania that night, Dani returned to Virginia, arriving in Louisa shortly after midnight. Waldon had turned off his phone and gone to bed. The next morning he found three messages from Dani's phone–- two at 12:16am and a third at 12:18. "The first message, she said she was behind my cousin and Trigger, and they're in her van and won't pull over," he said.

The second message he received, he told the jury, Dani said, "I'm behind your cousin. I'm behind Trigger. I'm honking my horn and flashing my lights, and they won't pull over." And in the final message, all he could hear was a horn honking.

"It's beyond a reasonable doubt," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Jacobsen in his closing argument. "I'll go out on a limb and say there's no doubt."

The prosecution presented alleged eyewitness Trigger Harris, a convicted felon who had sold drugs obtained from Waldron. Harris described how the defendant had been "disrespected" by his cousin Waldron that night, and how the teen then stole his cousin's cocaine, cash, and .357 Glock. The two took off in Howard's white minivan to return to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Trigger Harris lived.

On their way out of the gated community, Dani drove by in her newly purchased '99 Saab, turned around, and followed the van, honking and gesturing for them to pull over. When Johnson did, said Trigger Harris, he pulled the Glock out of his waistband and fired at Dani, who was hit by two bullets.

That, maintained the prosecutor, constituted premeditation.

While acknowledging that eyewitness Harris, who also testified while wearing prison stripes, was "no shining star," prosecutor Jacobsen pointed to the witnesses who corroborated his story, including G-Money's girlfriend and his best friend from New York, the two women who picked up the fleeing G-Money and Trigger in Culpeper the night Dani died and drove them to Harrisburg, and a man in Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail who testified that G-Money had "opened up" on this girl who chased him in Gordonsville.

Jacobsen cited "all the people the defendant blabbed to" about shooting Howard. "Had he kept his mouth shut, this murder still wouldn't have been solved," said Jacobsen.

As predicted by the prosecutor, defense attorney Richard Davis blasted Trigger Harris' story, noting that Harris was a "down and out" drug dealer fleeing incarceration when he came with Waldron to Gordonsville. Davis also challenged 20-year-old Harris' allegation that 16-year-old Johnson was the minivan driver and would know how to get to Culpeper, where they ditched the Windstar.

"Do you believe Trigg has no motive to lie?" asked Davis.

Jury deliberations begin at 9:30am Friday.

Update December 16: The age of Gary Johnson has been corrected in this version.

1 comment

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