Note in accused killer’s pocket sparks courtroom clash

Butler County court security deputies grew concerned Thursday during a pretrial hearing about a note placed in the pocket of Daniel French, the Kentucky man accused of killing an 87-year-old Monroe woman, and asked the court to advise against any outside communication with the man facing a capital murder charge.

After a deputy pointed to a fold noted in the pocket of French’s jail uniform, Butler County Judge Charles Pater said “anyone behind the bar is not to have contact with anyone in front of the bar.”

The note was then removed and given to French’s defense attorney Melynda Cook, who asked her client if he was permitted to read his mail in jail. French shook his head no.

“The jail doesn’t allow my client to read things that are sent to him. I took his glasses to him thinking that he could read them with his glasses, and they won’t let him have them,” Cook said. “He didn’t get letters I sent to him.”

Cook said she would address it with the jail, and deputies in the courtroom said they would also address the matter with the warden.

Prosecutors said they had no objection to French being permitted to read his mail.

Cook said after the hearing, she had placed the note in French’s pocket that was written by his sister, who was also sitting in the front row of the courtroom. The note said only that she loved him and included the “Lord’s Prayer,” Cook said.

The short hearing became contentious early on when county Prosecutor Michael Gmoser inquired about if the defense was going to file a not guilty by reason of insanity plea.

“I don’t believe I am required to tell the prosecutor where I am going with my case,” Cook said, but noted that in the massive amount of motions filed Wednesday, she did not include a motion questioning her client’s competency to stand trial or a not guilty by insanity plea.

But if something would change, Cook said she would filed a change of plea in writing and as quickly as possible.

Gmoser said he was not trying to impose a deadline, but wanted to make sure such a plea was not done a few weeks before the scheduled Nov. 2 trial, causing a delay.

“If he is accusing me of sandbagging in a prior case, or in this case, I take offense,” Cook said.

The two attorneys began addressing each other loudly.

Pater called for order, asking them not to address each other. He also declined to set a deadline for any change of plea by the defendant. The judge then set a status report hearing date for 11:30 a.m. May 1 to address any issues and make sure the case is progressing.

Prosecutors say French, 56, of Berea, Kentucky, scammed his way into Barbara Howe’s home at Mount Pleasant Retirement Community by pretending to be a maintenance man and saying that her medical alert system needed repairs. Once inside, French slit Howe’s throat several times during the robbery attempt, according to prosecutors.

“The defendant used a stun gun on Barbara Howe. When the stun gun was not effective, the defendant grabbed her, took her to the ground and attempted to choke Barbara Howe to death, placed her in and then out of the subbasement of Barbara Howe’s residence and slit her throat numerous times,” according to the bill of particulars filed last month by prosecutors. The injuries caused Howe to bleed to death, according to document.

French put Howe’s body in the trunk of her vehicle and poured various items on her body — including drain cleaner, peroxide and vacuum cleaner contents — before leaving the vehicle in a Middletown apartment building parking lot, according to prosecutors.

French, a former maintenance worker at the retirement community, also took cash, a diamond ring, a watch and a purse from Howe, but threw them out the window as “he drove down the road,” according to prosecutors.