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Woman faces second murder trial in fatal road-rage case

  • Heather Howell appears in Sonoma County Superior Court with her defense attorney Steve Spiegelman in Santa Rosa on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ PD)

A Santa Rosa woman will face a second murder trial in a road-rage death that happened as she raced after her boyfriend along city streets, prosecutors said Monday.

Jurors on Thursday found Heather Howell, 30, guilty of reckless driving and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in the July 2012, crash that killed another motorist, Jesse Garcia, 56, also of Santa Rosa. But the panel deadlocked 9-3 in favor of conviction on a more serious count of second-degree murder.

Prosecutor Anne Masterson told Judge Robert LaForge Monday that she consulted with District Attorney Jill Ravitch and Chief Deputy District Attorney Diana Gomez in deciding to try Howell again.

Hall Road Fatal Road Rage Case

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“Justice will be served” by pursuing a murder charge, Masterson said outside court. “That’s what this case is,” she said.

Howell’s attorney, Steve Spiegelman, grimaced as the decision was announced. Howell already is facing 10 years in prison with the two-count conviction. Second-degree murder would increase her punishment to 15-to-life.

Spiegelman told LaForge he would seek a court appointment for the second trial, entitling him to be reimbursed by the county for legal fees he said could go as high as $150,000.

He said he would call experts in toxicology and crash analysis and possibly, new witnesses.

Outside court he said the decision to try Howell again was “driven by personal and political issues.”

“There's no way it’s going to stick,” Spiegelman said after Monday's hearing. “They got nine votes because of confusion over causation and state of mind.”

Police said Howell had been drinking and using drugs on July 14, 2012, when she got into an argument with her boyfriend, Tony Kraus, at her Hartman Lane home.

When he left on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, Howell sped after him, chasing him in her Acura at high speeds. Witnesses reported the two weaving in traffic along Fulton Road and running through red lights. At one point, Howell shook a fist at Kraus and yelled “Yee-haw!,” a witness said.

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