The four-day saga surrounding the Mark Howard strangulation murder trial ended Friday afternoon with a jury verdict of second-degree murder. Howard, who is now 56, allegedly tied Jeanette Scholten to her motel bed and choked her to death in March 2016.
Jessica Finger, an investigator with the public defender’s office, had reviewed the footage taken from the motion cameras located around the Chatt Inn. In previous days, the prosecution used video from these cameras to show Howard as the only person seen entering and exiting the motel before and after the alleged murder.
Defense attorney Zachary Newman, as he did throughout the day, continuously questioned the nature of the video.
There were several gaps in the video, including segments where something was moving before the video abruptly cut off.
“So there’s movement, there’s movement, there’s more movement…….and then it cuts off,” said Ms. Finger.
During cross-examination by AnCharlene Davis, Ms. Finger admitted to not knowing about the particulars of the motion program or any of the technology behind it. She also said this case was the first time she had testified in court, and she was not considered an expert.
Speaking of video, Mark Hamilton came back to the witness stand for part two of his testimony. He repeated much of what he said on an earlier day, and also gave more detail into how he extracted data from the phone. Attorney Newman zoned in on a statement made by Mr. Hamilton in the preliminary hearing, where he said he did not tamper with the phone and put it into an “isolating box” of sorts.
Because Mr. Hamilton needed to finagle with the phone in order to restore power to the broken device, the surveillance expert was asked about that. He replied by telling the defense attorney he did what he needed to do to restore power, and did not tamper with the phone in other ways.
After a brief respite, the attorneys were given an opportunity to make their closing arguments before the jury. Prosecutor Crystle Carrion implored the jury to find the accused guilty of first-degree murder. She said Howard was shown to be guilty not only of murder, but also of premeditating the killing.
“He just needs to have an opportunity to reflect,” said prosecutor Carrion, holding up a timer. As the courtroom stayed silent, the timer slowly ticked down for two minutes, and she told them, “Do you know what two minutes is? That’s a long time to reflect.”
“This is not a split-second wound. Jeanette Scholten was manually strangled. He had to keep strangling and choking Jeanette. Mr. Howard had to make the decision to keep strangling her until she died,” said the prosecutor, “All of the evidence points to one person. Mark Howard.”
Meanwhile, attorney Newman rebutted by frequently referencing the gaps in the video, continuing a trend from the last few days. He also emphasized the unidentified DNA found on the tea and beer bottles located in the crime scene. Lastly, he also referenced Ms. Scholten’s alleged preference for bondage and choking during sex.
“There’s a lot of gaps in the video, and a lot of opportunity for someone else to show up. Someone other than Mr. Howard drank from the bottle after he left,” said attorney Newman, who then showed the jury a verdict form with only one option checked, “This is what your verdict form will look like. It will be marked ‘Not Guilty.’”
Aside from echoing the sentiments of her fellow prosecutor, prosecutor Davis asked the jury to consider the texts they read the day prior. While Howard’s messages focused upon a one-sided romantic attraction to Ms. Scholten, the victim’s messages were strictly about drugs or a platonic friendship. She would often ignore Howard’s messages if they became explicit in nature.
She also scoffed at attorney Newman’s fixation on Ms. Scholten’s sexual preferences. At one time, attorney Newman showed a picture of a bed with ropes for binding. Despite being into choking or bondage, that would not even slightly excuse what happened to the victim, the prosecution said.
“Does this picture look anything like the photo (of the chaotic motel room),” asked prosecutor Davis, “None of that was part of her fantasy. Her fantasy was not to die. But the only person in that room with a fantasy was Mark Howard.”
After those closing arguments and jury instructions, the jury went back to deliberate. After hours of talks, the jury decided there was not enough evidence to prove the murder was pre-meditated. The defendant is facing anywhere between 15 to 60 years in prison. He must serve 85 percent of the sentence.
Judge Don Poole set the sentencing date for January 7, 2020.