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Convicted felon accused of killing 3, severely beating 2 south KC residents

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Brandon Howell, 34, faces three counts of first-degree murder in connection with a deadly south Kansas City crime spree that left three dead and two injured. Brandon Howell, 34, faces three counts of first-degree murder in connection with a deadly south Kansas City crime spree that left three dead and two injured.
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

A man previously accused in a double murder faces three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree assault in connection with a deadly south Kansas City crime spree.

Brandon B. Howell, 34, faces 12 charges including burglary and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He is in the Jackson County Jail and a judge refused to allow him to make bond.

Howell declined to give detectives a statement after he was arrested, according to court records.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said it's too soon to know whether she will seek the death penalty.

"This is a very somber moment," Baker said.

She vowed to always keep the victims and their families in mind as her office prosecutes the case.

"Our thoughts are with them. Our prayers are with them," she said. "Everything we do from this point forward will be for them and about seeking justice in this case."

Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd has filed charges against Howell in connection with the assault of three guests at the Motel 6 at Interstate 29 and Barry Road. Those charges include three counts of assault, felon in possession of a firearm, burglary and tampering with a motor vehicle.

In her news conference, Baker said Howell, a convicted felon, used a 12-gauge shotgun he purchased in January 2000.

Johnson County officials say Howell's shotgun from the 1999 crime remains in police custody and is used in training of officers. And the serial number that Johnson County has for that weapon does not match the serial number on the shotgun that Howell had when he was arrested overnight.

Howell was arrested late Tuesday walking along Interstate 29 after a massive manhunt. Officers said Howell had the shotgun in his right pants leg, and the shotgun was loaded with four live shells.

Howell is suspected of assaulting three Motel 6 guests after ditching an SUV stolen from a home in south Kansas City.

The horror began unfolding when Howell allegedly attempted to steal a Jaguar owned by George and Ann Taylor, who officers found badly beaten in their basement.

Lorene Hurst was killed along with her son, Darrel, who was making one of his frequent visits to his mother when the tragic events unfolded. Also killed was Susan Choucroun, 69.

The suspect has an extensive juvenile and adult criminal record including first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery, assault and animal abuse charges in both Kansas and Missouri. His first criminal conviction occurred when he was 12.

As an adult, he beheaded a cat named Toby during a home invasion robbery in Johnson County that involved drugs. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison for those crimes.

However, he has not been convicted of all of those accused crimes. He had numerous disciplinary infractions including fighting while serving prison time in Kansas.

On March 9, 2009, a Jackson County jury found Howell not guilty of those first-degree murder charges.

When he was 25 years old, Howell was charged with two counts of first-degree murder stemming from the deaths of Nicholas Travis, 19, of Lenexa, KS, and Tabitha Brewer, 16, of Shawnee, KS. The couple were last seen with Howell leaving her home on April 27, 1998.

Travis' body was found in the backyard of a Kansas City, MO, duplex on Aug. 12, 1998. Howell's father owned the duplex and Howell and Travis had both worked there, according to a detective's probable cause statement. Brewer's body has never been found.

Three witnesses told authorities that Howell had confessed to killing the couple or had discussed a plan to kill them, according to the statement. The motive may have been a $40,000 settlement that Brewer had received after a car accident, although she was unable to access the money because it was in a trust fund, the statement said.

Then Jackson County Prosecutor Michael Sanders said the charges were made possible by "good, old-fashioned police work," rather than DNA matching.

Howell was incarcerated at the time at the Lansing Correctional Facility on robbery and assault charges. He was sentenced to 12 years in connection with the Gardner robbery from September 2000, and was given credit for time served. His parole from Kansas ended in August 2013.

"This is also an individual that we know has committed heinous crimes in the past and one that we wanted to get off the street," Kansas City Mayor Sly James said.

Baker said this murder prosecution will go differently than the previous one against Howell.

"They made every effort based on the facts that they knew. This was a bad actor," he said. "In a situation like that, you have to have almost overwhelming evidence and they didn't have that."

The shooting spree in south Kansas City began about 1 p.m. Tuesday in a neighborhood on Woodbridge Lane just east of Wornall Road near the Blue Hills Country Club.

The suspect was attempting to steal a Jaguar from the Hurst residence but was having difficulty fleeing in it. He wound up stealing the Taylor's Toyota Highlander.

Despite being badly hurt, Ann Taylor managed to call 911 to alert them.

Lorene Hurst and her son were found dead in the front yard of a residence at 7 Woodbridge.

Choucroun was found dead in her driveway at 3 Woodbridge.

Witnesses told police that Howell got out of the stolen SUV and shot Choucroun as she left her home after the Hursts had been shot.

Howell would then wind up in the Northland when he allegedly ditched the stolen Toyota Highlander and assaulted guests at the Motel 6 near 72nd Street. This happened about 3:15 p.m. The SUV was found about four blocks from the motel. Howell was armed with the shotgun, but did not use it against any of the motel guests, according to court records. The victims were not seriously injured and two of the three victims picked Howell out of a photo lineup.

He cornered the guests in the motel room but they managed to escape. Howell allegedly lost his shirt as he attacked one of the victims.

Howell was arrested just before midnight while walking along the highway about two miles from the motel. The key to the Taylors' SUV was found in Howell's pocket.

During her remarks, Baker spoke about the unimaginable grief that the victims and their families are experiencing.

"They went to bed last night with a nightmare and they woke up to their very worst nightmare," she said. "This was an individual who committed heinous acts and he's going to pay."

The last time a Jackson County prosecutor sought the death penalty was in connection with the brutal 2006 murder of Marsha Spicer, which was caught on tape. Richard Davis remains on death row and his female accomplice is serving life in prison.

As an assistant prosecutor, Baker was involved in prosecuting serial killer Terry Blair. The death penalty was sought against Blair, but prosecutors agreed to waive seeking the death penalty if Blair would agree to a trial by a judge. Blair wound up getting life in prison.

James and Deputy Chief Randy Hopkins joined Baker at the news conference at her office on Wednesday afternoon.

"The events are going to leave a scar on a peaceful neighborhood probably forever," James said.

Baker talked about the extraordinary nature of these circumstances. She said the majority of violent crimes are an act of retaliation or involve illegal activities.

"In this case, it scares all of us because that is a beautiful peaceful neighborhood and it got hit tragically by senseless acts of violence," she said. "But that perpetrator is behind bars."

Both Baker and Zahnd said it's upsetting that a felon was in possession of a firearm illegally.

KCTV5's Bonyen Lee and Josh Marshall contributed to this report.

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