Kitty Hawk sailor pleads guilty to murder of infant son
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Seaman Robert Howard sat on his tiny baby to shut him up, playing Pokémon on his Game Boy as the infant suffocated and died beneath him, Howard testified on Monday.
In the base’s main courtroom, Howard, a 21-year-old hospital corpsman who’d been assigned to the USS Kitty Hawk, pleaded guilty to the March 9 murder of his 28-day-old son, Logan. Howard also pleaded guilty to assault and aggravated assault for attacks on the baby days before the killing, including one in which he strangled Logan until he lost consciousness and another in which he suffocated the infant with his hand until he saw the color drain from the infant’s face.
Howard also admitted to sitting on the infant’s chest on a previous occasion, saying he was practicing wrestling moves he’d seen on television. “He seemed to be enjoying the moves,” Howard said. “He didn’t seem to be hurt.”
Howard pleaded guilty to a type of murder that, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, is committed by an act “inherently dangerous to others” and with a “wanton disregard of human life.” The maximum penalty is life in prison without possibility of parole.
Under the military judge’s questioning, Howard said he knew there was a great likelihood that his baby would be killed or be seriously injured if he sat on him but he did so anyway.
“Please tell me why it is you decided to sit on him,” military Judge John Maksym said to Howard.
“He was making some noise. He was a little fussy,” Howard said. “I wanted complete concentration for the game.”
Howard’s guilty plea was part of a plea bargain struck with Commander, Naval Forces Japan. In return for his guilty plea, some charges against Howard were dropped and he and his military lawyers agreed with CNFJ on his maximum penalty.
The sentence won’t be announced until after a sentencing hearing Nov. 17. Maksym is to make another, separate determination of a proper sentence. If the judge levies a lesser sentence than that sanctioned by CNFJ, Howard would receive the lesser sentence.
Howard enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2001, straight out of Colfax High School in Washington state, according to court documents read by the judge in Monday’s hearing.
In 2002, he completed his corpsman training, and the same year married a fellow sailor, also in the medical corps, after they’d known each other for one month, according to the court record.
The couple lived at the Kyuban Tower apartments. Logan was born in February, part of a baby boom that month at the base hospital following the Kitty Hawk’s 2003 deployment in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq war.
By the time of the baby’s killing, the Kitty Hawk was at sea again, but Howard had stayed behind, on leave for the baby’s birth. The baby’s mother, who worked at the base hospital, was sleeping when her husband hurt and killed their infant, Howard said. He said that after he got off the baby and saw he wasn’t breathing, he performed CPR and alerted his wife. She called an ambulance.
His wife, reached at her apartment Monday night, said she was in the process of divorcing Howard. She declined to comment further.
Howard has been in the brig since his arrest the night of the killing. His prosecution was based in part on statements he gave to naval investigators.
In a several-hour hearing on Monday, Howard, wearing metal-rim glasses and a blond fade haircut, shed no tears or showed any emotion. He spoke calmly about his son’s death and the preceding assaults.
He said he’d also previously smothered the baby, for somewhere from 90 seconds to three minutes, because he was trying to cure the infant’s hiccups. But the day before the killing, when he grabbed the baby’s collar and twisted it until the baby lost consciousness, it was because he was angry the baby was fussing while Howard wasn’t feeling well, he told the judge
“I started yelling at my son, ‘You won’t eat. You don’t want to sleep. I need to really use the toilet but you won’t let me,’” Howard said.