“I stand before you, or sit before you, filled with great remorse and sorrow,” he said. “If I could change time I would in a heartbeat, but I cannot change time.”
“I became a monster that I believe was never there,” French said, offering an apology to Howe’s family. There was no reaction from them, but French’s two sisters sobbed as he read from a piece of yellow paper.
During the two-minute statement French also told the jury he never wanted a trial and entered guilty pleas to the charges he was permitted to.
“I asked for a life sentence,” French said, adding that the prosecution would not permit it. He ended his statement with, “I did not want more suffering or pain for the family. I thank you.”
Before the trial, French offered to plead guilty as charged with the promise he would be given a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, but Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser rejected that plea, stating that a jury should decide French’s fate.
“Before the beginning of this trial I said I wanted the facts of this case fully disclosed to the citizens of Butler County,” Gmoser said. “I wanted the county to know I was going to be relying on a jury of Butler County citizens to make a determination with respect to the penalty in this case. I wanted full accountability, we received that in the first phase of this trial and in the penalty phase obviously the jury decided that there were mitigating factors that would spare this man his life.”
French has been “very remorseful” from day one, lead defense attorney Melynda Cook said.
“The defense is very happy with the verdict. It was the appropriate sentence in this case. It is a tragedy for both families,” Cook said.
French, who sat stone faced through the three-week trial, was permitted to see his sisters, LeeAnn Ifcic and Leslie McIntosh, before being taken back to the county jail. He smiled and waved to them as both women cried and said they loved him.
Cook, with tears in her eyes, told the women, “you helped.”
On Wednesday, the jury heard from two of French’s siblings who recounted an abusive childhood that included beatings with a whip.
“Mom and dad weren’t nice people,” his brother Kenneth French said, adding his parent used a horse whip on the boys in the family. “If it was this day and age, they would be in jail.”
Thursday, during the second day of the trial’s mitigation phase, defense psychologist Dr. Nancy SchmidtGoessling testified that after five hours of interviewing French and reviewing reports from previous psychological evaluations, she determined French has a “major depressive disorder,” including panic disorder, depression and PTSD.
SchmidtGoessling said French told her about killing Howe and never denied what he had done.
“He was very concerned about what he had done. He said he felt altered by it, said he felt his soul leave. He said he wanted to die,” SchmidtGoessling said.
But SchmidtGoessling was clear on her opinion about French’s sanity.
“I do not think he was insane. I think he was sane at the time he committed the offense,” she said, adding French knew what he did was wrong.
Cook hammered home French’s metal and medical issues in closing arguments when she asked the jury to consider a life sentence.
Howe’s family showed little reaction when the sentencing recommendation was read. Her sister, 85-year-old Patrica Marshall, said justice was served for both families.
“We will just have to remember the good memories of Barbara,” she said.
French, a former maintenance man at Mount Pleasant Retirement Community, hatched a plan to rob Howe using the ruse of repairing her medical alarm system. Once he gained entry to her home, French shocked her with a stun gun, but when she didn’t go down, he choked her, then slit her throat with a double-edged knife.
He then put Howe’s body in the trunk of her red Cadillac and drove it to a Middletown apartment complex. To cover up DNA and the crime, French poured cleaning supplies and vacuum clean debris on Howe’s body before walking to Walmart and calling a cab.
He also pleaded guilty on Oct. 14 to lesser charges of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. All carry a prison sentence of up to 27 years.
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Charles Pater will officially sentence French on Nov. 16.