Plea deal puzzles, angers victim in Delta shooting

Thomas Howe Jr.


• Read the full text of a court filing by 7th Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller in the case of 45-year-old Thomas Howe Jr.

Two people were home alone on Christmas Eve when 49-year-old Dina Navarrette was shot in the head as she cooked a holiday turkey.

On Monday, 7th Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller told a judge he can’t prove who pulled the trigger after months of investigation.

“I’m pretty sure the dog didn’t do it,” an angry Navarrette told Delta District Judge Charles Greenacre during a hearing in the case against 45-year-old Thomas Howe Jr., Navarrette’s ex-boyfriend.

Hotsenpiller Monday signed off on a plea agreement and moved to dismiss charges in Howe’s case, including attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, menacing and reckless endangerment.

Howe, who is free on bond, instead pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon by a prior offender, a low-rung, class 6 felony. If Greenacre accepts the agreement at a sentencing Oct. 17, Howe will face a maximum one year in prison.

Aaron Norris, Navarrette’s attorney and a former Mesa County prosecutor, said justice won’t be served if that’s the case.

“This does not cause anyone to question whether you can shoot your partner in the head, at home, and get away with attempted murder,” Norris told the judge.

In a four-page document filed with the judge, Hotsenpiller argued the case is mired in inconclusive physical evidence and a shaky account from the victim.

Howe called 911 around 1:45 a.m., Dec. 24 and reported his girlfriend had shot herself in the head at 28999 Redlands Mesa Road, just west of Hotchkiss, according to an arrest affidavit. Howe and Navarrette were house-sitting the property, owned by Howe’s parents.

Aside from the gunshot wound, emergency room doctors found her left eye swollen and discolored, while Navarrette’s blood-alcohol level registered at .288 percent, more than three times Colorado’s legal threshold for driving under the influence.

Delta County Sheriff’s Department deputies found her lying on her back on the kitchen floor, bleeding heavily from her head. Howe was trying to stop the bleeding, while still on the phone with dispatchers and a .22 Ruger near his girlfriend’s left side.

Howe told investigators he and Navarrette had been drinking and argued when a cooking alarm went off as she prepared turkey in the oven. After he called her a “dumbass,” she retrieved a handgun, fired one round in the wall, then put the gun to her head, Howe told investigators.

Howe told investigators he had handled the same gun earlier in the day, Hotsenpiller said.

Investigators, however, had problems with Howe’s account. In testing, gunshot residue was found on Howe while authorities questioned why, and how, Navarrette would awkwardly shoot herself on the top of her head, above her hairline.

While Norris, citing the arrest affidavit, said residue was found on Howe’s hands, Hotsenpiller said it was detected only on his “body.”

The mere presence of gunshot residue doesn’t prove guilt, the DA said.

“No expert is able to rule out the possibility of an accidental discharge by Ms. Navarrette herself,” Hotsenpiller’s court filing said, which also noted a doctor who first treated Navarrette observed, “it’s kind of a funny spot to shoot yourself on the top of the head.”

“No fingerprints suitable for comparison were found on the gun, and no DNA material was found for testing,” the DA said.

Navarrette, meanwhile, denies shooting herself. She has told prosecutors she only remembers seeing a table, then waking up in the hospital where she was treated for nearly a month.

Taken together, the facts cited by the DA shouldn’t sink a criminal prosecution in the matter, Norris argued.

“If she had been murdered, the evidence would have been even weaker,” he said.

Navarrette said there’s no doubt in her mind who tried to kill her, despite memory problems among lifelong impacts from the shooting.

“I can’t believe you’re even entertaining the possibility of approving this agreement,” she told the judge Monday.

Howe was arrested in Delta County in April 2008 on suspicion of domestic violence, although it wasn’t immediately clear whether Navarrette was the victim in the case, according to CBI arrest records. He received a deferred judgment.

Norris said Navarrette was the victim in the 2008 case and she was assaulted.

CBI records show Howe was ticketed or arrested at least 15 times dating back to 1987, including on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving as a habitual traffic offender and resisting arrest.


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