Prosecutor Drops Charges in Assisted-Suicide Case

Article excerpt

The Howard family's yearlong ordeal ended this week when a prosecutor in Newton County, Mo., dropped manslaughter charges that had been filed a year ago when 76-year-old Velma Howard committed suicide.

Her husband, Bernard A. Howard, 77, of Belleville, and her son, Bernard J. Howard, were accused of helping her kill herself in a motel room in Joplin, Mo.

On Monday, Newton County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Bridges dropped the charges. In April, he agreed to delay prosecution for a year as other simil ar cases made their way through the courts around the nation. An attorney for the Howard family, Shawn Askinosie of Springfield, Mo., said his clients were "relieved and surprised." He said the Howards were private people. l "These people are not the standard-bearers of the issue of assisted suicide, and they certainly didn't seek this attention," Askinosie said. "They would like to get on with their lives now." The family, father, son and grandchildren are spending Christmas together in Texas. Velma Howard was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a terminal degenerative disease of the nerve cells. She died Dec. 9 after drinking a mixture of alcohol and drugs and putting a bag over her head in a Days Inn motel room, a central location for the Howards and their two sons. (The Howards' other son, Steve, of Lenexa, Kan., was never charged.) Velma Howard, a retired kindergarten teacher, had planned her death for the day after she and her husband had celebrated their 50th anniversary. The Howards were believed to be the first people charged with voluntary manslaughter under Missouri's 13-year-old assisted suicide law. In announcing the charges in January, prosecutors said Velma Howard had followed "a recipe for death outlined in a book describing various methods of ending one's life." The Howards called police to inform them and summon them to the room. Her husband and son were accused of mixing the juice, vodka and drugs that killed her, giving her rubber bands which she used to secure a plastic bag over her head and arranging furniture so she could easily reach the juice and objects. …