A trial date has been set for the man accused of killing a Lafayette police officer, our media partners at The Advocate report.
The trial for Ian Howard has been set to start on March 1, 2024, when district prosecutors will allege Howard killed Lafayette Police Officer Cpl. Michael Middlebrook in October 2017. He has been charged with first-degree murder and is facing the death penalty, the newspaper reports.
"The family is relieved and happy things are going forward," Adrienne Middlebrook, the officer's widow, told The Advocate after Wednesday's hearing.
Howard, 33, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for Middlebrook's death. He's also accused of shooting three others in the incident, but those cases won't go forward until after the death penalty case is done.
According to The Advocate, the judge in the case, 15th Judicial District Judge Valerie Gotch Garrett, said that trial date is firm.
"I will not move this date unless there is a dire issue," 15th Judicial Court Judge Valerie Gotch Garrett said in court Wednesday. "This date is etched in stone."
To read the rest of the story, with all the details about what happened in court, click here.
Howard was found incompetent to stand trial after a hearing in December 2021. During that hearing, several doctors testified that he wasn't mentally able to assist his lawyers in representing him. Garrett at that time ordered Howard to a mental hospital where he could receive treatment, with the aim being to get him healthy enough to help his lawyers in his defense.
Howard suffers from either schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder and has done for years without any apparent help from the mental health providers he met prior to the October 2017 slaying of Cpl. Michael Middlebrook, according to the testimony of three psychiatrists at the 2021 hearing.
At that time, Garrett ruled that Howard was too sick to help his lawyers, and ordered him transported immediately to the state mental hospital in East Feliciana for evaluation and treatment. At the time, the judge ruled that, while Howard did seem to understand the proceedings against him, he was not mentally able to assist his lawyers because his schizophrenia was untreated.
During the 2021 hearing, one of the psychiatrists - who works at that hospital - testified that he believed he could get Howard into a condition that would enable him to assist his lawyers with therapy and medication.
Part of the problem, Garrett ruled in 2022, is that Howard was not receiving treatment for his mental conditions while he's at Hunt Correctional. Testimony indicated that he was given some medication when he arrived, but after he improved it was discontinued. Schizophrenia is not a curable condition, meaning that a couple months of medication doesn't make it go away, the doctors testified. Instead, it's a treatable condition, they testified.
Since Howard wasn't being treated for his mental condition, he was not in a mental position to help in his defense - and that is required by the law, the judge wrote. Therefore, "this court errs on the side of caution after observing the defendant over many proceedings that without his proper medication the defendant cannot fully assist his counsel in this serious offense," she wrote back in 2022.
Garrett ruled earlier this year that Howard is now competent to help his lawyers in his trial.