Trial begins in Wellington attempted murder case

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Oct. 31—The trial of a Wellington man charged with attempted murder got under way Tuesday morning, with the state calling its first two witnesses in its case against Rodney David Howle, 52, accused of shooting Benny Rowell, 60, during an argument.

Calhoun County Circuit Judge Timothy Burgess released jury members early to allow them to spend time with their families for Halloween.

The defendant and suspect were neighbors. The Anniston Star previously reported that at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 12, 2021, police responded to a mobile home on Ben Martin Drive in Wellington, where they found a man had been shot in the face. The victim, Rowell, reportedly hit the defendant with his cane during an argument.

At this point, Howle pointed a 25-caliber pistol near his mouth, Calhoun County sheriff's investigator Nick Abernathy said at the preliminary hearing back in 2021.

The victim said "shoot me," not thinking Howle would do it, Abernathy said.

Prior to the seating of the jury, defense attorney Michael Askew made an argument to the judge to suppress a body-cam video Assistant District Attorney Alan Dees intended to play. The video showed the scene around the trailer park where the incident occurred, but not the scene itself. It also showed events from the deputies' standpoint prior to Howle's arrest. Burgess ruled that the jury should be allowed to see the body cam footage.

"With friends like Rodney Howle, who needs enemies?" Dees began his opening argument with.

During the defense's opening arguments, Askew reminded the jury that the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant not only meant to shoot the gun, but also intended to kill Rowell. Askew said the fact that Howle also called 911 to request a paramedic showed that that burden of proof was not met.

Askew stated that Rowell invited Howle into his home, as the two were friends and that Howle had gone to check on Rowell as he often did.

Askew said that there will be physical evidence on the damage the strikes from Rowell's cane did to Howle and that Howle only pulled out the small caliber pistol in an attempt to get Rowell to stop hitting him. Askew said that Rowell continued to hit Howle and that in the scramble of the altercation, the firearm discharged.

Rowell, the second witness the State called, is disabled, and was disabled on the date of the incident.

Dees said that Rowell was asleep in his recliner when Howle came over to the residence. Rowell said Howle was showing him the gun that day prior to the incident.

Dees told the jury that during the argument, Rowell told Howle to leave several times before the defendant pulled the weapon on him.

Rowell said that asking Howle to leave enraged the man. "He got mad and pulled the gun on me," Rowell said. Rowell said Howle stuck the gun to his cheek and said something to the effect "I ought to just kill you."

Rowell said he was scared. As the argument continued, the defendant pulled the gun on him multiple times before Rowell began to hit him with the cane.

"I hit him about three times hoping it would get his attention enough where he would leave," Rowell said.

Four times, he put the gun in his face before Howle eventually shot him, Rowell said.

Rowell said that Howle offered to take him to the hospital and begged him not to call the police. Rowell refused and asked him, "You shot me! Why in the hell did you do that?" Rowell said.

Rowell described pulling blood clots out of his mouth to keep them from going down his throat. The man was on blood thinners and couldn't stop the bleeding.

Rowell said that he was in the hospital for a month, and had to be taught how to swallow again. He said that it has greatly affected the way he eats, and he cannot wear dentures anymore. He said that the incident had caused PTSD and that he has nightmares.

Dees' first witness was Calhoun County 911 operations manager Amy Adams. She spoke to the authenticity of the 911 calls that came from the residence that day. Those were admitted into evidence and played for the court.

Rowell's pain was evident in the 911 call as the man was groaning on the call. The 911 operator asked Rowell if the wound in his face was bleeding a lot, to which Rowell responded, "Yeah, pretty bad. I've gotta take blood thinners."

Rowell told the operator that Howle was no longer on the scene and that he took the weapon with him.

During Howle's call to 911, the operator was asking him questions and at one point, Howle said "I can't even think right now, I'm scared half to death."

At the beginning of the call, Howle began by telling the operator of Rowell's illicit drug use, and launched into a story of what happened. The operator stopped Howle from speaking at one point and asked him what the emergency was. He again began telling the story saying that Rowell "just went crazy," until the operator finally asked "did you shoot him?"

"I don't know. All I know is that the damn gun went off," Howle said.

Dees said during his opening arguments that one could see the difference in the "attitude" of both 911 calls. Dees also said that during the trial, the state would call a witness that claims that Howle tried to give him the weapon to try to get rid of it.

Defense attorneys did not cross-examine Rowell before the court released the jury for the day, choosing to wait until Wednesday. Court resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The trial began immediately after the 12-person jury had been selected. During jury selection, Askew asked each prospective juror whether they would have an issue with finding the defendant not guilty if the state had failed to meet the burden of proof.

Staff Writer Ashley Morrison: 256-236-1551. On Twitter: @AshMorrison1105.