LAFAYETTE, La. — Defense attorneys for the man accused of fatally shooting a Lafayette Police Department officer and injuring three others, Ian Paul Howard, have entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for him in the injury case, and have requested that it be decided by a judge instead of a jury.
Howard, 29, has two pending cases: a first-degree murder case in the 2017 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.
The plea entered Thursday is in the attempted first-degree murder trial.
On Thursday morning, 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards heard several motions by Howard's defense.
According to court documents that officially changed Howard's plea, the defense stated that after its own investigation it had become clear to them that Howard "suffers from a severe mental illness."
"Mr. Howard has suffered from this untreated severe mental illness and his mental state had been deteriorating for some time prior to the offense, and Mr. Howard was psychotic at the time of the incident," the document states. "As a result, Mr. Howard was, at the time of the incident, incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong."
The defense also stated that their investigation revealed that Howard had a long history of serious mental illness, including his being involuntarily committed to a hospital a few months before the 2017 shooting for "bizzarre behavior" where he was found to be suffering from paranoia, delusions and hallucinations.
The defense states that Howard had been committed after police observed him running in a "frantic method" in front of a store in Lafayette. After he was detained, Howard stated that the FBI was trying to kill him and that he was being followed by white vans.
Howard was then taken directly to a hostpiatl where he was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder destressed type. Howard was then referred for inpatient mental health treatment and a trial of antipsychotic drugs. Afterward, he was released from his involuntary commitment.
The following month, Howard purchased the gun that he would use in the shooting.
The defense states that on the day of the shooting, Howard exhibited symptoms of mental illness, including talking about "demons" and referring to the drugs he purchased from friends as "light."
According to the defense, Howard drove to the Big Boy Convenience Store on Oct. 1, 2017 at the request of a passenger. While the passenger was in the store, Howard got out of the car armed with a handgun and shot someone in the parking lot outside of the store without provocation and for no apparent reason. There was no argument or words exchanged between Howard and the victim, who had never spoken to or seen each other before.
Howard then shot into the store with one shot, which struck an employee inside, again with no provocation. The defense also noted that nothing was stolen and no attempt was made to steal anything of value from within the store.
Howard then drove away from the store before returning and then circling the store in his car and then leaving again. Howard returned a final time and parked his car across the street from the store shortly after Middlebrook had arrived on the scene.
Howard, who was unarmed at the time, then proceeded to walk with Middlebrook to the entrance of the store.
After arriving at the entrance to the store, Howard grabbed a handgun from the hand of the manager of the store and, without provocation or warning, shot and fatally wounded Middlebrook.
Howard then exchanged gunfire with the second officer that arrived on the scene before running to a ditch next to the store where he was then apprehended by law enforcement.
Howard continued to display unusual and abnormal behavior after his arrest including speaking to himself or someone else who was not present.
Howard's attorneys have requested that some evidence be thrown out and for a change of venue, which wouldn't be relevant in a bench trial as change of venue motions have to do with jury selection, and there is no jury in a bench trial.
However, the defense admits that many of these issues are now rendered moot after Howard's waiver of his right to a trial by jury and election of a judge trial.
Howard will return to court for a motions hearing on Jan. 10.
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