Ex-husband who admitted to killing El Segundo real estate agent released on parole – Daily Breeze
After more than a decade in prison, a former American Airlines mechanic who admitted to killing his ex-wife in El Segundo and discarding her body in the trunk of her car was released on parole last week, angering family members who said they were blindsided by a decision to set him free.
Erwin Percy Howard was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison in September 2008 after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Julia “Deede” Keller, a well-known South Bay real estate agent.
Keller, 54, was asphyxiated on July 9, 2004 in her home and found dead days later in her abandoned Mercedes-Benz in downtown San Diego.
As part of a plea deal reached just as testimony began in his trial, Howard apologized to Keller’s family and admitted to squeezing her until she was lifeless during a heated confrontation. He was angry that she was seeing someone new when he thought they were rekindling their relationship.
But detectives said Howard planned the murder, jealously stalking Keller and following her on dates while he was on the clock, bypassing security procedures at work to hide his whereabouts.
The high-profile case drew national media attention, and was featured on NBC’s “Dateline.”
Howard, 65, was released Thursday after 10 years and five months in state prison, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He earned credits for good behavior and the 3 1/2 years he served in jail awaiting trial.
CDCR spokesman Luis Patino did not disclose where exactly Howard was released, but said it was in Los Angeles County. He said he also could not disclose the terms of Howard’s parole.
A parole board concluded at a hearing in April 2018 that Howard had a good prison record, made significant strides and was suitable for release. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown did not overturn the decision.
The only member of Keller’s family to attend the hearing was her sister, Pat Sparks. She spoke in favor of Howard’s release, saying she forgave him, that he is a “good man” and that Keller had a role in her own death, according to transcripts.
In an interview, Keller’s son, Mike, said he and his sister, Julie Wilson, were unaware of the parole hearing because they were not on a victim notification list maintained by CDCR. He said they did not realize they had to register to be on the list.
But even if the siblings had been notified, the plea deal they and a few other relatives agreed to barred them from objecting to his release.
Mike Keller said he now regrets signing the agreement, calling it “Swiss cheese,” and wishes the trial had gone on.
“I don’t see how a reasonable jury could not have convicted him of first-degree murder based on the amount of preparation he did to commit the crime over weeks and months,” he said.
Mike Keller said he recalls prosecutors assuring him the plea deal would spare the family the pain of going through the rest of the trial, and that it was highly unlikely Howard would ever see freedom, even with a conviction on the lesser charge.
“We were under extreme duress at the time of the trial, so I blame ourselves for not looking a little bit more deeply (at the agreement),” he said.
Paul Eakins, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment on the son’s claims. He said at the time, the D.A.’s office notified families that they could register for CDCR’s victim notification system.
Mike Keller said he only found out about the parole hearing after it happened because a friend happened to look up Howard’s parole status online last year.
He launched a Change.org petition and a letter-writing campaign urging Brown to overturn the board’s decision.
The El Segundo Police Department also did not know of the parole hearing, according to Capt. Carlos Mendoza, who investigated the case with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Though CDCR sent the police department a letter in December 2017 about Howard’s parole hearing, Mendoza said an audit could not find it.
In any case, Mendoza said he was reminded that detectives also agreed not to object to Howard’s release.
He worries Howard remains a danger.
“This guy was jealous, he was stalking her, he was violent, he had committed domestic violence on her before,” Mendoza said. “What’s going to happen if he gets married to someone else and goes through a divorce again? Is this going to happen again?”
At the parole hearing, Deputy District Attorney Sue Lasicka argued Howard should remain behind bars and that he still demonstrated criminal thinking.
Howard told the board he now practices Buddhism and that meditation has helped him recognize triggers that make him angry. He denied stalking Keller.
His attorney, Michele Garfinkel, said in an interview that Howard was a “perfect inmate” who expressed remorse and earned his freedom.
Mike Keller said he now plans to work on victims’ rights reform, including ensuring victims’ children are automatically added to notification lists.
Now a father to a toddler, he said he tries to be the kind of parent his mother was: sweet and selfless.
“We get to make my mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies together and I feel like I got a lot of her nurturing abilities,” he said. “I just know when we’re at the park, Mom is just thrilled up in heaven. She’s with us and she’s smiling and happy.”
This content was originally published here.