Crime

Murder charged in slaying

Accompanied by defense attorney Patrick O'Connor, Bernard Keith Howell, 26, of Tenino listens Monday as Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy sets his bail at $750,000. Howell was ordered held on suspicion of second-degree murder.
Accompanied by defense attorney Patrick O'Connor, Bernard Keith Howell, 26, of Tenino listens Monday as Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy sets his bail at $750,000. Howell was ordered held on suspicion of second-degree murder. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Prosecutors have charged Bernard Keith Howell with first-degree murder in the death of Vanda Boone in Tenino on Sunday.

Prosecutors initially filed two charges against Howell on Wednesday – aggravated first-degree murder and first-degree rape – but later in the afternoon the charge was amended to a single count of first-degree murder.

Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney James Powers said a conviction of aggravated murder in the first-degree carries a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. A prosecutor also can seek the death penalty in aggravated first-degree murder cases, provided that the prosecutor files notice within 30 days of a defendant’s arraignment, he said.

Powers said the prosecutor’s office made the decision to amend the charge to reflect only a first-degree murder charge against Howell because they’re “waiting on medical evidence.” He said the prosecutor’s office can amend Howell’s first-degree murder charge again, depending on what the medical evidence shows.

“We don’t consider the medical evidence clear enough to make a decision,” on the aggravated first-degree murder charge, Powers said.

The first charging document stamped in Thurston County Superior Court at 2:58 p.m. alleged that Howell committed aggravated first-degree murder. This document stated that Howell “committed the murder to conceal the commission of the crime of rape or to conceal his identity as the person who committed the crime of rape; or ... that the defendant committed the murder in the course of, or in furtherance of, the crime of rape in the first or second-degree.”

Shortly before 5 p.m., Powers called The Olympian to notify a reporter that the prosecutor’s office had reconsidered and amended Howell’s charging document to allege only a single count of first-degree murder.

Howell, 26, was arrested Sunday night after he was pulled over near Parkside Elementary School in Tenino with the body of Boone, 60, wrapped in a sleeping bag in the passenger seat.

Howell told police that he “just wanted to save the family of this woman the $5,000 it would cost to bury her,” court papers state. Howell denied that he had anything to do with her death, but later after his arrest, said that he had sex with her dead body, according to court papers.

Boone died after her throat was slashed on Sunday, Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said. Blunt force injuries to her head and neck, and asphyxia due to strangulation or suffocation also contributed to her death, Warnock said.

Boone, who worked as a massage therapist at Radiance Herbs and Massage in Olympia, leaves behind no known living relatives, Warnock said Tuesday. She had moved to the Yelm area from New York in March.

A spokesman for Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment in Yelm confirmed Tuesday night that Boone studied there before her death. Ramtha spokesman Steve Klein added that Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment will arrange and pay for Boone’s funeral.

Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Chris Mealy has said that detectives think that Boone was walking or riding her bike on the Yelm-Tenino Trail Sunday afternoon when she was attacked and murdered.

Howell has a court hearing tentatively scheduled for this afternoon in Thurston County Superior Court. Powers said he expects Howell’s public defender to raise the issue of whether Howell should have his mental health evaluated at Western State Hospital.

Howell has told court officials that he hears voices. Howell’s father, also named Bernard Keith Howell, said his son “does have a screw loose.”

If Howell is ordered to undergo an evaluation at Western State Hospital, it could delay Howell’s arraignment, Powers said. Howell’s arraignment is currently scheduled for Tuesday, court papers state.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 jpawloski@theolympian.com

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