PORT ALLEN — A state district judge sentenced a former day care operator and the “nerdy” Verizon-employee-turned-hit man she hired to life in prison on Thursday, three months after a West Baton Rouge Parish jury found the two guilty of murdering her husband.
State District Judge J. Robin Free sentenced Monique O. Kitts, 45, and Karl Michael Howard, 30, of Roswell, Georgia, to life without the benefit of parole or probation. In November, the jury convicted the duo of second-degree murder in the 2010 shooting death of Kitts’ husband, Corey Kitts, 40, in a murder-for-hire scheme.
The outward displays of intense emotion evident when the jury convicted Kitts and Howard were absent Thursday when the mandatory life sentences were handed down during a busy day at the West Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse in Port Allen.
Waiting for their own moment in front of the judge, shackled inmates under the watchful eyes of bailiffs sat in the jury box and in a row of pews next to Corey Kitts’ family.
“Good luck to both of you,” Free told Monique Kitts and Howard after issuing the sentences.
Kitts and Howard had been set for sentencing in early January when Free heard victim impact statements, but defense attorneys filed last-minute appeals to overturn the verdicts, which delayed sentencing until Thursday.
Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton said the sentences show that crime doesn’t pay and provide some peace for the family of Corey Kitts.
“It hopefully allows the parents of Corey to peacefully mourn the death of their son,” Clayton said.
Several members of Corey Kitts’ family declined comment as they filed out of the courthouse into the frigid morning air, but Courtney Popleon, 26, who is Corey Kitts’ oldest daughter from another relationship, said she was very satisfied.
“Justice was served,” she said.
Monique Kitts’ defense attorney, Allen Myles, said he planned an appeal. He said one aspect of the appeal would raise jury error because prosecutors never nailed the time of the murder.
He said the Kittses’ neighbor, who was leaving for work the morning of the murder, reported seeing Howard’s getaway vehicle at 7:15 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. in the Kittses’ driveway, but Monique and Corey Kitts’ daughter said she was at home until 8:45 a.m. that day and heard her dad snoring in bed before she left.
Clayton, a frequent sparring partner with Myles at trial, disputed that assertion Thursday. He said the timing discrepancies were clarified at trial as the neighbor later checked work timecards and realized he didn’t get to work until an hour later than usual, meaning his initial time estimate for seeing the getaway vehicle was off by an hour or more.
Prosecuting attorneys portrayed Monique Kitts, who owned the All Aboard Daycare in Plaquemine, as a liar, schemer and a woman hellbent on “getting rich quick” at the four-week trial. Her defense lawyer described her as a loving wife, mother and former businesswoman who tried to save her marriage but lost everything when she was wrongly accused of being involved in her husband’s murder.
Corey Kitts was shot three times on the morning of July 9, 2010, while sleeping in the couple’s bedroom in the Addis home they shared with their two children.
Prosecutors argued that Monique Kitts had her husband killed so she could cash in on more than $800,000 from his employment benefits and life insurance. Prosecutors claimed Howard was the triggerman, who was introduced to Monique Kitts by her lover, whom she had previously paid to find a hit man.
Clayton said the testimony of Corey Knox and David Ray Johnson was pivotal in laying out the murder plot, which was then corroborated with cellphone records.
Knox testified that he helped Howard case the Kitts home and later was Howard’s getaway driver on the day of the murder. Knox had been indicted in Corey Kitts’ death but became a state witness against his co-conspirators just days before the trial began.
Johnson, who was a milk delivery man for Monique Kitts’ day care and admitted to having an affair with her, testified that Howard told him that Monique Kitts gave him a key to her house in Addis, and that was where he shot her husband.
Johnson told the jury that Howard said he expected to be paid $100,000 for the murder. But when Monique Kitts didn’t have the money, Johnson said, Howard began threatening her.
In markedly different testimony, Monique Kitts called Howard a friend who is compassionate and is “very smart, nerdy and likes to talk a lot.”
Johnson also admitted to repeatedly taking money from Kitts — purportedly to find someone to kill her husband — while in a relationship with her but claimed he never had any intention of doing that and only wanted the money.
Johnson agreed to testify in 2013 after prosecutors told him he was a target in the murder investigation.
Monique Kitts maintained her innocence on the stand at trial and in January during victim impact statements.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.