MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Just shy of three years after 87-year-old Barbara Howe’s dead body was found in the back of her red Cadillac in a Middletown apartment complex, the trial of a man accused of killing her will began Monday.
Charles Pater’s Butler County Common Pleas courtroom was packed with perspective jurors — 150 were requested for the selection pool — and spectators for the death penalty trial of Daniel French.
Three weeks have been scheduled for the trial, which includes the trial phase and if French, 56, is found guilty, the penalty phase to determine if he lives or dies. The trial may move faster after French’s pleas to lower charges last week in a surprise move by the defense. French pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse.
The defense team said French was willing to plead guilty to the remaining charge of aggravated murder if he was given a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. That offer was rejected by county Prosecutor Michael Gmoser who said a jury needed to make the determination.
The only charge left for the jury to decide is if French is guilty of aggravated murder. A chilling confession recorded by police in December when French was arrested at his Berea, Ky. home will be part of the evidence, The Journal-News reports. In that confession, French admits to entering Howe’s bungalow on Paxton Circle by using a ruse of being employed by Mount Retirement Community to check on a malfunctioning medical device. He then used a Taser on Howe, choked her, and slit her throat several times causing her to bleed to death, he confessed.
French said he took Howe’s diamond ring, money and her purse and put Howe’s body in the truck of her car, covered her with drain cleaner, peroxide and vacuum cleaner contents and drove the vehicle to a Middletown apartment complex and threw items, including the ring, out the window.
That confession will be played at the trial, leaving most to believe French will be found guilty. But, in the confession, French said he did not go to the residence on Oct. 29, 2012 to kill Barbara Howe, an element the prosecution will have to hammer home with the jury to get a death penalty consideration, The Journal-News reports.