The case involving John Michael Howell took an unexpected turn Tuesday morning as Howell assaulted Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Haught upon entering the courtroom.
The pre-trial hearing was the last case on the court's docket for the day. Howell, carrying what appeared to be several documents, walked passed his appointed counsels' table and approached Haught. After stopping approximately one to two feet away from Haught, Howell stated that he had something for Haught. He then spit saliva on Haught, after which he cursed at the prosecutor.
Howell was taken to the jury room. The Honorable Judge David W. Hummel, upon returning to the courtroom after the commotion, ruled that Howell would be left out of the room during the hearing. Hummel reiterated what had occurred for the record. Haught added that his back was turned during the incident.
Hummel then inquired as to whether or not Howell had any transmittable diseases and stated that an order would be put forth to have Howell tested. Howell's defense attorney, Martin Sheehan, appeared to have some sort of disagreement to having Howell tested, mentioning a search warrant. "There was direct contempt in my courtroom," Hummel replied sternly.
Prosecutor Haught stated that he would have Howell's actions brought up against him in trial. Sheehan replied that the incident would disqualify himself and Defense Attorney Patricia Kurelac, since they were witnesses.
After lengthy discussion on other trial-related motions, it was determined that jury selection for the trial would be held Aug. 11. The case will be tried beginning Sept. 3. A final pre-trial court appearance has been scheduled for Aug. 1, 10 a.m. Judge Hummel alerted Northern Regional Jail guards that Howell was to be equipped with a spit guard, along with shackles on his ankles and wrists for future court dates.
On Jan. 18, 2011, Howell pleaded innocent to his four-count indictment charging him with felony offenses of a sexual and violent nature said to have occurred on or about Dec. 14, 2010, in Wetzel County.
Howell faces one count each of the felony offenses of kidnapping, second degree attempted sexual assault, first degree sexual assault, and malicious assault (respective to counts one through four) for acts allegedly committed against his wife. The two had been separated since August 2010 and have a child in common.
The case has been a long-winding one, as a number of matters have arisen during its duration. Howell has had approximately five other attorneys prior to his current counsel-Sheehan and Kurelac. Also, the case was also formerly presided by Judge Mark A. Karl, who recused himself in October 2013.