Ian Howard’s defense attorneys are investigating whether he’ll plead not guilty by reason of insanity in his attempted murder case, a trio of charges that stem from the night he’s also accused of shooting and killing a Lafayette police officer.
Howard, 28, appeared in a Lafayette Parish courtroom on Tuesday for hearings on the two pending cases: a first-degree murder case in the shooting death of Lafayette Cpl. Michael Middlebrook, for which prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty, and in a separate case, three charges of attempted first-degree murder that involve the collateral victims from that night.
As has been the case in Howard’s prior hearings, he appeared before the judge in a protective vest, and the four bailiffs in the courtroom ensured that two rows of courtroom benches remained vacant behind him. Several of Howard’s family members and friends filled a bench behind that.
Howard’s attempted murder case was set for trial on Sept. 24, but 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards granted the defense’s request for a continuance. Howard’s attorneys say they need time to investigate whether an insanity plea would be an effective defense on his behalf. Howard has been held in a mental-health facility since shortly after the Oct. 2 shooting outside the Big Boy convenience store on Moss Street.
Other cases similar to Howard’s, in which multiple events from a single incident are tried separately, have shown that missteps during trial on the lesser charges can impact the results of the capital case, including leading to an overturned verdict, defense attorney Stephen Singer argued in court.
Singer said that both state and American Bar Association guidelines set specific standards for mounting an effective defense based on the defendant’s mental health. The standards include investigating a lifetime of the defendant’s associations and several generations of his family’s mental-health history to determine whether he’s indicated signs of disease throughout his life and whether it’s prevalent in his bloodline.
Singer and Howard’s other attorney, Elliot Brown, said they need more time to properly investigate the potential defense.
Edwards ordered Singer and Brown to complete that work and make a decision on the potential insanity plea by Dec. 4. Howard’s trial in the attempted murder case is now set for Jan. 7.
A trial has not been set for the capital case in Middlebrook’s death. Prosecutors have said they intend to pursue the death penalty in that case.