PORT ALLEN — A state district court judge on Wednesday pushed back the sentencing date for the woman and hired gunman facing life sentences in prison for killing her husband in a murder-for-hire plot while they seek to have their verdicts overturned.
District Judge Robin Free was forced to reset the sentencing date for Monique Kitts, 45, and Karl Michael Howard, 30, of Roswell, Georgia, to March 5 after her lawyer filed a last-minute motion asking for a post-verdict acquittal and new trial.
Howard’s public defender filed similar motions — all of which Free denied Wednesday after resetting the sentencing date.
Free told the two lawyers they could take their arguments for a new trial to the appellate courts. Kitts and Howard were both convicted of second-degree murder after a monthlong trial in November.
In his motion for an acquittal and new trial, filed late Tuesday, Kitts’ attorney Allen Myles accused Free of showing favoritism toward prosecutors during the trial.
Myles also referenced in his motion the judge’s recent 30-day suspension for recent ethics violations in several cases he presided over.
One of Free’s offenses involved his acceptance of an all-expense-paid trip to the hunting ranch of a Texas attorney whose client was awarded a $1.2 million settlement in a personal injury lawsuit tried in the judge’s court. Tony Clayton, the prosecutor in the murder-for-hire trial, was a co-counsel of the Texas attorney in the civil case and also went on the trip with the judge.
The murder-for-hire trial stretched over four weeks, and evidence that was presented to the jury included incriminating cellphone records connecting Kitts with Howard.
Prosecuting attorneys portrayed Kitts as a liar, schemer and a woman hellbent on “getting rich quick,” while her defense lawyer described her as a loving wife, mother and former businesswoman who lost everything when she was wrongly accused of being involved in her husband’s murder.
Prosecutors argued that Monique Kitts had her husband, Corey Kitts, killed so she could cash in on more than $800,000 from his employment benefits and life insurance.
“The Court mocked defense counsel in open court and in the presence of the jury in response to an objection made by the defense,” Myles wrote in the 4-page motion seeking a post-verdict acquittal.
He added, “The Court refused to sustain almost every single objection against the state in the presence of the jury; yet granted every objection against the defense.”
In addition to questioning several other decisions Free made during the trial, Myles’ motion also asserted the state lacked any evidence proving Kitts paid Howard to kill her husband.
Corey Kitts, 40, was shot three times on the morning of July 9, 2010, while sleeping in the couple’s bedroom in the Addis home he shared with his wife and their two children.
Myles also accused prosecutors of going behind the court’s back to coerce one of its star witnesses, Corey Knox, to testify against Kitts and Howard.
Knox testified that Howard, a Verizon employee living in Atlanta at the time, originally asked him to kill Corey Kitts. Knox told jurors that after he refused, Howard coerced him into serving as the getaway driver on the morning of the murder.
“Corey Knox was taken into the District Attorney’s office in the middle of his testimony and met with prosecutors instead of being taken to the ‘bathroom’ as requested,” Myles said in the motion.
Although Kitts and Howard avoided sentencing Wednesday, they did have to listen to victim impact statements from Corey Kitts’ family — two of which consisted of his sister and mother begging the pair to confess to the crime.
“I just want you to tell the truth,” Clonise Kitts-Stewart, the sister of Corey Kitts, tearfully said to Monique Kitts in court Wednesday morning. “Why did this have to be done to Corey? I don’t hate you. I don’t want this to be you. I never stop caring about you regardless of what I heard on that (witness) stand.”
Courtney Popleon, Corey Kitts’ oldest daughter from a previous relationship, talked about the wedge her stepmother’s actions has created between her and two younger siblings. The younger siblings are children her father had with Monique Kitts.
“I wish this was just all a big dream and I’d wake up and it would all be over,” Popleon said to Kitts. “I forgive you, but then I can’t forgive you.”
After additional comments from Corey Kitts’ mother and another of his sisters, Monique Kitts read a letter in the court declaring her innocence.
To her husband’s family she said, “I’m not the money-hungry monster the D.A. made me out to be. Corey was worth more to me alive. If I didn’t love him, I wouldn’t have been fighting for my marriage.”
Howard elected not to speak in court Wednesday.
But Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton pointed to an incriminating letter he said authorities confiscated from Howard in the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail a few days ago.
Clayton said the letter pointed to Howard’s guilt.
According to an incident report from the jail, guards said they spotted Howard slide the letter under Kitts’ isolation cell. The letter was addressed to Knox and largely mentioned Knox’s plea deal with prosecutors.
“As you can tell my mindset was all or nothing as far as you and her go,” Howard wrote. “But they offered me the deal trying to say that you were the violent one between us but turning on you never crossed my mind ever.”
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