PORT ALLEN — Karl Michael Howard, accused of firing the three fatal shots that killed Corey Kitts while he was sleeping in his Addis home four years ago, took the stand in his murder trial Monday and denied having anything to do with the slaying of his friend’s husband.
Howard, who took the stand as the murder-for-hire trial rolled into its fourth week, told a West Baton Rouge Parish jury that he never conspired with Monique O. Kitts to murder her husband on July 9, 2010; he never accepted any money from her to do the killing; and he had never been to her house in the weeks leading up to the fatal shooting — testimony that contradicted previous statements from several of the prosecution’s star witnesses.
Howard, a 30-year-old former Verizon employee who was living in Atlanta at the time of the murder, even refused to hold the .380 pistol Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton, of the 18th Judicial District, pulled from an evidence bag and presented to him in court.
“I’ve never touched a .380 before,” Howard, 30, said after telling jurors he has never owned a gun. “I don’t like them; they’re dangerous.”
It is an opinion Howard told jurors he formed after his uncle was gunned down when he was younger.
Kitts and Howard each have been indicted on counts of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit second-degree murder in the shooting death of Corey Kitts.
Monique Kitts took the stand Nov. 6 as the defense began its case. She testified she was trying to work with her husband on their marriage in the months leading up to his slaying and never would have paid anyone to kill him.
But on Monday, Clayton tried to discredit Howard’s testimony by highlighting to the jury discrepancies in Howard’s testimony compared with his cellphone records.
Clayton reminded jurors that Corey Knox testified that he and Howard cased the Kitts’ home in Addis’ River Landing subdivision on at least two occasions in April 2010.
Knox also admitted he served as the getaway driver for Howard on July 9, 2010, but claimed he didn’t realize Howard had fatally shot Corey Kitts.
“You told the FBI you were only in Baton Rouge when you were visiting in April,” Clayton said, referring to a statement Howard made to investigators in February 2011.
After presenting Howard with a map sketching his cellphone activity, Clayton said, “Here’s April. Why are you hitting off a cellphone tower in Addis?”
“I wasn’t over there with him,” Howard replied, referring to Knox.
“Why were you over there?”
“I was talking to my friend, Monique,” Howard said, asserting that he was meeting Monique Kitts for drinks in Addis.
Clayton then showed Howard a second map, dated April 3, 2010, showing his cellphone activity in Addis again on another night Knox alleged they drove past the Kitts’ home.
“What were you doing over there?” Clayton asked Howard.
“I wasn’t with Corey (Knox),” he retorted.
“Who were you with?” Clayton asked.
“Monique,” Howard said. “Hanging out and talking … in the parking lot of Benedetto’s.”
“If you’re hanging out with her, why is there 25 communications between you and her at that time?” Clayton asked. “What were you doing? Asking her what she was doing? She reply, ‘Watching you text me?’ ”
Clayton’s remark elicited a burst of laughter from the audience in the courtroom.
But despite Clayton’s grilling, Howard maintained his innocence and said none of David Ray Johnson’s testimony earlier in the trial was true. Johnson admitted on the first day of the trial that he had an affair with Monique Kitts.
Johnson also testified that Howard told him Monique Kitts gave him a key to her house in Addis where he found Corey Kitts asleep in his bed and called out his name, which roused Kitts somewhat, and then shot him.
Johnson also testified that Howard had said he expected $100,000 for the murder, but when Monique Kitts didn’t have the money, Howard began threatening her life.
Representatives from Shintech, Corey Kitts’ place of employment, already testified that Monique Kitts stands to gain more than $800,000 from her husband’s employment benefits and life insurance.
Howard told jurors that West Baton Rouge Parish investigators threatened to manipulate the evidence if he didn’t agree with what they wanted him to say.
“When Detective Berthelot interrogated me in Atlanta, he kept telling me this is what he thought … what I should go along with,” Howard said. “He told me if I didn’t help him, he’d make the case look the way he wanted it to look.”
During his questioning of Howard, attorney Allen Myles, who represents Monique Kitts, also pointed out to the jury that investigators never found evidence linking Howard to the crime scene.
“How was Monique’s state of mind after her husband’s death?” Myles asked.
“Crying every day. Depressed,” Howard said. “She was stuck in bed. Drinking a lot.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.