Man placed on rider after burying dead grandmother in backyard
BLACKFOOT — A man was placed on a rider program for hiding his dead grandmother for nearly five years by burying her in the backyard.
District Judge Darren Simpson placed Harley L. Howell, 25, on the rider. Simpson gave an underlying three to 10 years in prison for Howell after hearing arguments about Howell’s autism.
Howell pleaded guilty to felony failure to report a death, and as part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dismissed a felony abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult charge.
A rider is when a judge sends a person to prison for up to a year to undergo different treatment programs. When the inmate has completed the program, the judge can then decide to send them back to prison or release them on probation.
What happened to Naoma Ware?
According to an affidavit of probable cause, Howell admitted to detectives that in 2014 he placed his dead grandmother, 78-year-old Naoma Ware, in a closet, and months later, he buried her. For nearly five years, almost nobody knew Ware was buried under the dirt in her backyard.
Authorities began searching for Ware in December 2018 after her daughter, Danielle L. Howell, died in a car crash.
Friends were unable to find Ware to notify her of the death, and they called the sheriff’s office.
Investigators later discovered Social Security benefits were still being collected under Ware’s name. Bank records led detectives to the Howell family, according to court documents.
During an interview with investigators, Harley said that in October 2014, he pushed Ware down in her bedroom at their home at 1056 East 1100 North. He then shut the door and left Ware alone. Danielle eventually found Ware dead on the floor of her bedroom in the fetal position. At one point in the interview, Harley allegedly said, “I killed her,” according to the probable cause affidavit.
“Harley said Danielle told him she did not want to get in trouble because of Mrs. Ware looking malnourished,” detectives said in their report.
The Howells stuffed Ware’s body into a closet, where she remained for about two months. When the body began to stink, Harley said he moved her body to a shed in the backyard. As his mother began to worry the smell was becoming worse, she and Harley wondered what would happen when Doug Howell — Danielle’s husband and Harley’s father — would begin to use the shed.
Ware’s body was placed in the crawl space for two more weeks before Harley dragged the body to a duck pen behind the house. Danielle began digging a hole in the area, and Harley said he finished the digging and placed Ware’s body inside and covered her with dirt.
Prosecutors initially charged Doug with felony abuse and neglect of a vulnerable adult, but after striking a deal with prosecutors, that charge was amended to a misdemeanor. Doug admitted shoving Ware to the ground during an argument in 2014 because she had more than 30 cats living in her bedroom. His action left her bedridden for two months before her death, according to court documents.
It’s not clear if Doug knew about the death or wondered what had happened to Ware.
A judge ordered Doug Howell to spend four days in jail for the crime.
What was said in court
Defense attorney Douglas Dykman mentioned Harley has been in special education, was diagnosed with autism, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and more. Intelligence tests show that Harley has an IQ between 74 and 76.
“My client is easily manipulated. He tends to do and say what other people tell him to do,” Dykman said.
With those disabilities, Dykman said Harley’s mother was able to manipulate him into hiding Ware’s body so they would not face any consequences.
“I do exactly what my mom says. She is my caregiver,” Harley said in court. “… I just went with the plan. I don’t know a better way of saying that. … I got forced.”
Bingham County Prosecutor Paul Rogers said the case took his office into new territories and every day brought something new. He called the case “bone-chilling” and “eerie.” He said Harley is not as “innocently minded that he’s made out to be.”
“We can take away that Mr. Howell understood what he was doing because he was attempting to protect his mother in hiding Mrs. Ware’s body,” Rogers said.
Dykman asked that Harley would be given probation, but Rogers said prison time is what was needed, and that opinion was supported by a presentencing investigator. Ware’s family also agreed prison was the best option.
“They (the family) feel justice will only be served with a prison recommendation,” Rogers said.
While prosecutors dismissed the charge of abuse, the topic of alleged abuse Ware suffered came into court. Dykman said the confession to the abuse only came after repeated questioning by detectives.
“He did tell the police he did abuse her, kicked her on one occasion, but felt compelled because they kept asking him,” Dykman said.
Simpson said for the decision for his sentence came down to determining if Harley knew right from wrong.
“I think you knew this was right or wrong,” Simpson said. “That doesn’t negate the duties and obligations you have as a citizen of our community.”
Harley will be taken to an Idaho Department of Correction facility to complete the rider program. Simpson also ordered him to pay a $1,200 fine.