A 34-year-old felon charged in the shotgun slayings of three people on a quiet south Kansas City cul-de-sac Tuesday made his first appearance in court Thursday morning.
Jackson County deputies led Brandon B. Howell into a small downtown courtroom. He wore a blue jail jumpsuit and was handcuffed to a fraud defendant from Nebraska, who was waiving his right to extradition to Omaha.
Howell faces three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Susan Choucroun, 69, Lorene Hurst, 88, and her son Darrel Hurst, 63.
Prosecutors also charged Howell on Wednesday with four counts of armed criminal action, two counts of assault and single counts of burglary, stealing a motor vehicle and unlawful possession of a firearm.
Police found another couple on the same block, George and Anna Taylor, badly beaten inside their home.
Thursday morning, Jackson County Associate Circuit Judge Mary F. Weir asked Howell his date of birth and then reviewed all 12 counts against him, one by one.
Howell looked straight ahead, betraying no emotion as she reviewed the murder counts. The judge advised him of his right to remain silent and asked him whether he could afford to hire his own lawyer.
At that point, Howell shook his head. She asked, “Is that a no?”
He said, “You said I should remain silent.”
“You can answer that,” the judge said.
“ No,” Howell responded, “I can’t” afford a lawyer.
Weir set his next court appearance for 2 p.m. Sept. 25. He was ordered held without bond.
The scene likely was a familiar one for Howell, who has faced Jackson County murder charges before. In 2009, a Jackson County jury acquitted him in the killings of Johnson County teenagers Tabitha Brewer and Nick Travis.
Their families last saw Brewer and Travis in April 1998.
Howell also spent time in Kansas prisons for a 1999 home invasion robbery in Gardner in which a pet cat was beheaded. He was paroled in 2011.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in announcing the charges that “all punishments are on the table,” signaling that she would consider seeking the death penalty for Howell.
Such decisions, however, are time-consuming, involving a thorough review of the evidence to identify aggravating and mitigating circumstances, lengthy discussions among prosecutors and, often, consultations with family members of the victims.
Police arrested Howell late Tuesday evening while he was walking along Interstate 29 near Northwest 72nd Street, about a mile from where an SUV stolen from the scene of the killings was found abandoned earlier in the afternoon. Howell had a 12-gauge shotgun concealed in a pant leg when he was arrested, court records said.
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