Judge to rule on bond for woman charged in 2011 killing of York attorney

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJune 27, 2013 

— Christina Adams suffered years of abuse at her boyfriend’s hands, her defense attorney said, making her so desperate that she shot him to death while he was in the bathroom.

Michael Howe, a York attorney, was “defenseless” in his boxer shorts when the “cold-blooded” Adams emptied a .45 caliber gun into him after dinner, and then ran, a prosecutor said.

On Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Mark Hayes said he will have to take all arguments “under advisement” before he rules on whether Adams’ second attempt at making bond is successful.

Before the hearing – a motion by defense lawyers to reconsider a previous bond decision – Adams waited in a Spartanburg courtroom that seated her just feet from Howe’s family. Her wrists and ankles shackled, she laughed with her family members and discussed collecting live ducks and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Howe’s family sat in silence, except for the occasional whisper.

On Oct. 10, 2011, police found Michael Howe, 44, shot to death in the Smith Street home the couple shared after Adams' friend, Daniel Martin, and Adams' daughter went to the police station to report the killing.

Adams, who initially dropped the gun and fled, told police she shot Howe after "he hit me," according to a police report. Police charged Adams with murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

Since then, the case has lingered in court, and Adams has been in jail for nearly two years. That’s because the defense has fought a “battle with the state” for discovery, the process whereby prosecutors share with the defense evidence and information police gathered in an investigation, and vice versa, said Amy Sikora, Adams’ public defender.

Defense lawyers received the last of all the materials they requested Wednesday afternoon and abandoned a motion to compel discovery, Sikora said.

“Had we been given stuff in a timely fashion,” the case possibly would have been tried by now, she said.

Greg Voigt, the Charleston solicitor prosecuting Adams, called Sikora’s claims about discovery “balderdash.” He said the defense received all pertinent information 60 days after Howe’s death. He added that defense lawyers requested items, such as Howe’s computers which contain personal pictures, emails and work-related documents, that were “irrelevant” to the case.

A key witness for the defense, a social worker meant to testify about battered woman syndrome, had been diagnosed with cancer and “physically unable” to prepare, creating a longer delay, he said.

Last February, a magistrate upheld Adams’ murder charge during a preliminary hearing. Magistrates cannot set bond for a murder charge. A subsequent Circuit Court bond hearing was canceled by the defense because both the defense and prosecutors did not enough information from discovery to proceed, Sikora said.

York County judges recused themselves from the case because of their past dealings with Howe’s mother, Mary “Micky” Howe, who worked in the court system for many years.

Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett recused himself from prosecuting the case for similar reasons, and handed the case to the Charleston County Solicitor’s Office.

The process stalled even more because getting an out-of-town judge and solicitor in the same courtroom at one time “is not easy,” Voigt said.

A bond hearing was finally held last December, when a judge denied bond for Adams under the condition that she would go to trial by March. If the case failed to make it on the docket by then, she could ask for bond again.

Desperate woman

Christina Adams spent all of her life in York County, living with a family of limited financial means, Sikora said, and raised by her grandparents.

Adams, 29, is mother to a 12-year-old girl who has not seen her in 18 months, Sikora said. She’s worked jobs at Papa John’s, has DUI and cocaine possession charges in her criminal past and has a large “friend base,” Sikora said.

For more than two years, she and Howe were a couple. According to Adams, they were engaged.

Still, Adams feared Howe, a gun enthusiast who kept firearms strapped to the headboard of their bed, and an expert in systema, a Russian martial art blending hand-to-hand combat with knife-fighting and firearms training, Sikora has said.

“She is a woman who felt she was in a desperate situation,” Sikora said.

Voigt argued that Adams’ “cold-blooded” actions make her dangerous. A witness police interviewed said Adams lied about Howe’s abuse, he said, and another witness said Adams practiced shooting on his farm “in case she had to shoot her boyfriend.”

Sikora countered, saying that the witness, interviewed in March, gave a statement to police claiming both Howe and Adams used his farm for shooting, and he was unsure if Adams was joking or referring to a past boyfriend.

“An ankle monitor is not the ... barrier I’d like to keep between this woman and York County,” Voigt said. “A beeping light on someone’s switchboard will not stop Adams” if she decides to kill again. Adams behind “barbed wire and cinderblocked in” will, he said.

“I felt emotional as I sat and watched Chrissy turn around and talk and laugh and speak to her family,” said Howe’s mother, Mary “Micky” Howe. “Then, I look ahead and all I see is an empty chair.”

Mary Howe called her son “dependable,” the person family members turned to for help. He built a metal barrier around his father’s favorite pecan tree to keep out squirrels. The barrier is still standing, Mary Howe said.

“I don’t hate Chrissy – I can’t, it’s not in me,” she said, but “I don’t want to see Chrissy released. Our family is so close. When you hurt one of us, you hurt all of us.”

That includes Norman Guthrie, Howe’s uncle, who told the judge that the pain of Howe’s loss has been “unbearable” for the family.

Sikora handed Judge Hayes a letter from Adams’ mother, Teresa Stroupe, who declined to comment after the hearing along with other family members who did not speak in court as planned.

Judge Hayes said he would speak with court administration before he makes a decision about Adams’ bond. An order could be mailed to both parties within the next two weeks.

After the hearing, a jail guard led Adams out the courthouse for her return to jail. She walked quickly and politely smiled when she said, “No comment.”

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