Bond denied for ‘lookout’ in murder-for-hire case
By Eric Fleischauer
For the Enquirer
A Morgan County circuit judge, criticized by prosecutors for letting a capital murder defendant out on bond earlier this year, on Thursday ruled that another capital murder defendant will remain in jail without bond even though he was not the shooter.
Aaron Carter Howard, 41, of Toney, has been in the Morgan County Jail without bond for more than two years as he awaits trial in connection with the July 24, 2020, shooting death of Anthony Larry Sheppard, 41, at Sheppard’s Hartselle home.
Howard’s lawyer, Carl Cole, filed a motion last month asking that Judge Jennifer Howell set bond for his client and she held a hearing on the motion Sept. 30.
According to Hartselle police, Jaclyn Elaine Skuce, 40, paid Logan McKinley Delp $30,000 to kill Sheppard, the father of her child. Police say Delp was accompanied by Angela Stolz and Lajuhn Keith Smart Jr. when he went to Sheppard’s Dawson Road home and shot him multiple times. According to police, Howard assisted in the crime by being a lookout.
All five defendants alleged to have been involved in the shooting are charged with capital murder and all are being held without bond. Skuce and Delp, 38, are from Madison. Smart, 26, and Stoltz, 35, are from Huntsville. Trial has not been scheduled in any of the cases, but in Thursday’s order, Howell scheduled a Nov. 18 status conference for all five.
Cole had argued there was no allegation that Howard had pulled the trigger or even that he had been at the scene of the crime, and that Howard’s trial may not take place before 2025.
In her order, the judge went through multiple factors specified in the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure as being relevant to bond decisions.
One factor was whether there is a probability the defendant will be convicted. Howell said there was such a probability based on his alleged role as an accomplice to the other four defendants.
“It is alleged that the Defendant served as a ‘lookout’ while the crime was ongoing, that he surveyed the victim’s home on more than one occasion prior to the crime, and that after the crime, he disposed of the vehicle that was used by his co-defendants during the commission of the crime,” Howell wrote, and that Howard “was paid for his assistance in his crime.”
She also, however, pointed out weaknesses in evidence thus far produced by the prosecution.
“Though the State refers to the Defendant as a ‘lookout,’ it should be noted that there is no testimony or evidence currently before the Court to support this assertion,” Howell wrote. “The Defendant was not at the scene of the crime, but at some other, undetermined location. None of the co-defendants allege that he was present at the scene, and none of them called him a ‘lookout.’”
Howell also placed some emphasis on testimony by FBI Special Agent Christopher Hendon at the Sept. 30 bond hearing. Hendon testified he received a postcard in April from the jailed Howard which he perceived as a threat.
“The Court finds that the Defendant’s letter can certainly be construed as a threat to Investigator Hendon,” Howell wrote.
Cole on Thursday said he anticipated that Howell would deny bond as a result of Hendon’s testimony.
“After the hearing and the revelation of the letter to the FBI agent, I can’t say that I’m surprised. In fact, I expected it,” he said.
Another factor in bond decisions is the extent of ties the defendant has to the area, including his ability to get a job. Cole in his motion argued that Howard’s self-employed brother would hire him as a laborer upon his release, but Howell noted that the brother did not testify at the hearing.
Another factor to be considered in bond decisions is a defendant’s criminal record. Howell noted that Howard was previously convicted of possession of a controlled substance and receiving stolen property in Madison County, and that his probation was revoked for noncompliance in those cases. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun possession charge in Madison County and had a 2012 out-of-state conviction for assault with a deadly weapon.