Daniel French told a Middletown police detective during his interrogation that he only meant to rob 87-year-old Barbara Howe of Monroe, not choke her to death. But another of his admissions was among the more jaw-dropping.
“I seen Ms. Howe’s ghost, and I apologized,” French told Detective Rich Bush during a taped interview on Dec. 10 at the Rockcastle County Kentucky Jail.
Audio of French’s 40-minute taped confession of Howe’s murder was played publicly for the first time Monday in Butler County Common Pleas Court. The evidence was presented as part of an 8-hour suppression hearing where French’s defense team sought to keep his confession out of the upcoming Oct. 19 trial.
French, 56, of Berea, Ky., faces the death penalty if convicted of Howe’s murder. He is charged with aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and robbery, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence.
He wiped away tears as he sat in Judge Charles Pater’s courtroom listening to audio of his interview with police.
Howe’s daughter, Donna Wesselman, and other family members clutched one another’s hands as they sat in the front row of the courtroom and listened to French give a chilling account of what happened that fateful day in 2012 at Mount Pleasant Retirement Village. They looked down at the ground and shook their heads as some of the more gruesome portions of the audio played.
Bush, of the Middletown Division of Police, questioned French on Dec. 10 after his arrest at his sister’s home in Berea, Ky. It was the fourth time French had been interviewed by police since January 2013.
“I expected a monster, but after talking with you, I see remorse,” Bush told French in the interrogation tape. “This is a chance to kick that monster to the side.”
That’s when French told Bush about his vision of Howe. He then told the detective he only intended to rob the elderly woman, but she didn’t go down when he shocked her in the neck with a stun gun.
“I just wanted to see if she had money. I was going to take it,” French said in the recording. “Basically I took a stun gun. This is all I was going to do. It didn’t work.”
French then told Bush that he grabbed Howe in the bedroom and began choking her.
“Grabbed her and put her down,” French said. “It wasn’t my intention to choke her to death, I was just trying to get her to black out and she wouldn’t … I choked her to death.”
French, who was a maintenance department employee of Mount Pleasant Retirement Village from 2003 to 2011, scammed his way into Howe’s cottage pretending to be a maintenance man. He told Howe that her medical alert system needed repairs, according to prosecutors.
French said in the recording that he didn’t know what to do with Howe after he’d killed her, so he dragged her from the bedroom and put her in a crawl space inside her home.
“I tried to remove the evidence. I stripped her,” French said.
He told the detective that he wadded up Howe’s clothes, burned them in a bucket and cleaned up the blood caused by the elderly woman’s thin skin tearing.
Bush asked French if Howe was dead when it he put her into the crawl space. He said yes.
“I felt my soul leave,” French told Bush in the tape.
French said he left Howe’s house at the retirement village but returned later to make “it look worse” and cover up the evidence, referring to the crime scene.
He detailed on the tape how he put Howe in the trunk of her red Cadillac and slit her throat. Because he had drooled on her, French said he cut off Howe’s hair, then went to a dollar store in Monroe to purchase peroxide, which he poured over her body. He said he also doused her body with drain cleaner and vacuum remains from her house.
Afterward, he drove Howe’s car to Middletown where he parked it at Woodridge Park East Apartments, French said in the tape. He then walked to Walmart and called a taxi to take him to his sister’s house in the Monroe area.
When Bush asked him how much money he took from Howe, French replied: “Eighteen dollars.”
French said he also took Howe’s diamond ring, 3.31 carat oval cut, but pitched it out the window while driving somewhere on Ohio 63.
“I didn’t want nothing to do with it,” French said.
When Bush told him it would be very important for Howe’s family to get the ring back, French said simply “it is lost.”
“It looks terrible, it is terrible and maybe I am a monster,” French said in the tape. “But I didn’t mean it to be that way.”
Defense attorneys Melynda Cook and Lawrence Hawkins III argue that their client’s confession should not be part of evidence at trial because he was not stable enough to waive his right to an attorney and French had indicated he was suicidal. French was found asleep in his bedroom with a gun and a suicide note close by when police came to arrest him, and he has been on suicide watch at the Butler County Jail as he awaits trial.
His attorneys want to keep DNA test results out of court as well.
Pater did not rule on the motions Monday as he will finish listening to recordings and videos Tuesday from three other interviews of French by Monroe detectives in January, March and September 2013. The judge may rule once that process is concluded.
During a Jan. 18, 2013, interview in Berea, Ky., French consented to give his DNA to Monroe police Detective Gregg Myers. But he denied any wrongdoing in Howe’s death.
“I didn’t do it. I guess you are either going to have to take me, arrest me or get me a lawyer,” French told Myers during that interview.
The hearing continues Tuesday at 1 p.m.
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