OLYMPIA – A man charged with murdering a woman on a Tenino area trail in August has been found competent to stand trial after a lengthy stay at Western State Hospital.
Thursday’s order declaring Bernard Keith Howell competent means he can be tried for Vanda Boone’s homicide on the Yelm-Tenino Trail.
It also gives Thurston County detectives the chance to re-interview Howell, who pleaded not guilty Thursday to first-degree murder, in an effort to determine whether he is involved with the unsolved disappearance of Nancy Moyer.
Moyer, a mother of two, was 36 when she went missing from her Tenino home in March 2009. Moyer’s home is about a mile from the Tenino house where Howell lived with his father.
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Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin confirmed Thursday that the sheriff’s office wants to interview Howell “about anything else he may have been involved with – specifically, the Moyer disappearance.” During the time in which Howell was declared incompetent to stand trial, it was impossible for detectives to arrange such a meeting, Elwin said Thursday.
Howell was arrested Aug. 8 when a Thurston County sheriff’s deputy pulled him over in his pickup near Parkside Elementary School in Tenino. Boone’s body was in the passenger seat , wrapped in a sleeping bag. Howell denied killing her; he said he had found her dead on the trail and was going to dispose of her body because he “just wanted to save the family of this woman the $5,000 it would cost to bury her,” court papers state.
Moyer vanished from her home March 6, 2009, leaving her car, purse, wallet, credit cards and identification in the home. Her husband came home to find the front door ajar, the television on and a glass of wine on the coffee table in the living room.
Despite repeated searches, clues in Moyer’s disappearance have been scarce .
Howell, 27, operated a meat-delivery business from his pickup at the time of his arrest .
He was arraigned Thursday, immediately after Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor declared that he was competent. During a hearing in September, Tabor had declared Howell incompetent and ordered him to head to Western State for a 90-day evaluation.
At Western State, doctors administered medications in an effort to restore Howell’s competency, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney James Powers confirmed outside court. In Washington, a criminal defendant is incompetent when he or she “lacks the capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings against him or her or to assist in his or her own defense as a result of mental disease or defect.”
Powers and Howell’s defense attorney, Patrick O’Connor, said they do not expect any other competency issues to arise as they prepare for trial. Howell’s trial is scheduled for the week of Feb. 28.
O’Connor said Thursday that no one has contacted him about arranging an interview with Howell about Moyer’s disappearance.
Howell is accused in court papers of cutting Boone’s throat. Detectives have said they think Boone was walking or riding a bike when she was killed.
Howell later admitted to detectives that he’d had sex with Boone’s body. In Howell’s pickup, detectives found “plastic bags, zip ties, bungee-type elastic cords and a 10-pound weight ,” court papers state.
Boone, 60, had worked for Radiance Herbs and Massage in Olympia . She studied at Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment and had moved from New York City to the Yelm area in March. She was a native of Brazil.
Boone’s friends in New York, Brazil and Yelm were shocked by her homicide and held memorials and vigils on both coasts .
A victim’s impact statement by Boone’s friend Lori Drayson was added to the court file . It reads, in part : “How does one even begin to put into words the impact and devastation of a beautiful life lost to such a violent crime? How does one erase the memory of having to identify your beloved friend from a photo of their horrified and distorted face because the coroner’s office would not have you view the mutilated body?”
Howell’s father, also named Bernard Keith Howell, has said that he fears his son might have been involved with methamphetamine.
Howell was being held Thursday at the Thurston County Jail with bail set at $750,000.