District Attorney's Office


  

Conasauga Judicial Circuit of Georgia




   Serving Murray & Whitfield Counties

HOWELL FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER

April 18, 2017 (Dalton) – Aaron Jerome Howell (28) was found guilty by a Whitfield County Jury for the offenses of murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery in the December 22, 2014 death of Paul Guerrant. The jury of 8 men and 4 women deliberated for more than four hours after seven days of trial and after hearing from 28 State’s witnesses and 3 defense witnesses and having received over 165 exhibits. The trial began following jury selection on April 10th and was presided over by Superior Court Judge Cindy Morris. The State’s case was presented by District Attorney Bert Poston with assistance from lead investigator, Chris Tucker of the Dalton Police Department. The Defendant was represented by Cat Pyne and Natalie Glaser of the Public Defender’s Office and did not testify in his own defense.

Guerrant was homeless, but at the time was staying with Tracy and Randy Heatherly on Dozier Street. He had attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on the evening of his death and was walking back to the Heatherly residence when he was killed. A passing motorist on Dozier Street saw Guerrant laying in the road, stopped and honked his horn to get the attention of individuals at a nearby residence who called 911. Investigators with the Dalton Police Department established from blood evidence that Guerrant was killed where he was found. With the assistance of the medical examiner’s office it was later determined that Guerrant was struck from behind with a ball-peen hammer and then beaten about the head as he attempted to crawl away and that the beating continued after Guerrant lost consciousness and collapsed to the ground. The final blows resulted in extensive fractures to the left side of Guerrant’s skull and the resulting brain damage lead to his death, pronounced at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga early the following morning.

Numerous leads were pursued in the early days of the investigation without success. Then, on January 7, 2015, a 911 call from local resident David Dixon led to Howell becoming a suspect. Dixon’s nephew, James Williams, originally from Chattanooga but at the time living in Dalton, had become friends with Howell and reported that Howell had confessed to him that he had killed someone recently. Howell also told Williams where he had discarded some of his belongings after the killing. Based on that information, clothing that Howell had worn the night of the murder, as identified on video from the Mack Gaston Community Center, was located in a wooded area near the crime scene. The clothing consisted of a jacket and an orange toboggan. The toboggan contained Howell’s DNA plus two drops of blood which unfortunately were two degraded for DNA testing. The blood was believed to have dropped from the hammer onto the toboggan during the murder. During the same search and in the same general area, the murder weapon was also located and recovered.

Howell was interviewed extensively on the 7th and then again after his arrest on March 8, 2015. While he never formally admitted to the murder, he made numerous other admissions and made some false statements about his activities on the night of the murder which helped to tie him to the crime. During the interview, Howell claimed that he had gone directly from the Community Center to the apartment of Samuel Brant Williams however the Community Center video showed him leaving in the opposite direction. Williams was not able to provide any firm estimate of what time Howell arrived that night but stated it was raining hard, which would put his arrival about 20-25 minutes after the murder. Williams also testified that Howell was not wearing the clothes he had on when he left the Community Center and that he had a backpack with him which he did not have when he left the Community Center. Howell admitted that he kept his belongings in backpacks which he kept hidden near Dozier Street.

Evidence was also presented concerning a similar incident from 2012 in Florida in which Howell had stabbed another homeless man in the back with a fork and later pled guilty to that charge. That incident was recorded and the video showed some sort of verbal exchange after which Howell approached the other man from behind and attacked him without warning.

Following the verdict, Judge Morris set sentencing for June 13th. Howell faces either life or life without parole on the murder charge plus up to 20 years each on the aggravated assault and aggravated battery. Howell is currently on probation for forgery from Gordon County and has a misdemeanor record in Florida.

Bert Poston
District Attorney
Conasauga Judicial Circuit


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Bert Poston,
District Attorney


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