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Juror speaks out about Wendy Howard case ahead of hearing to determine retrial

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Nov. 18—A juror in the Wendy Howard trial sat in his car one October afternoon after listening to witness testimony and broke down crying.

That’s according to Mark Christian, another juror in the 10-day trial, who told The Californian about their deliberations during a recent phone interview. Howard’s children had testified how Kelly Pitts, Howard’s ex-partner, touched them inappropriately, asked for sexual favors and did a sex act around them.

Howard, a Tehachapi woman, was charged with first-degree murder after shooting Pitts, 59, in 2019. Howard said she shot Pitts, her abuser, in self-defense. But prosecutors argued she sought vengeance for his abuse and shot him.

Jurors acquitted Howard of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter of imperfect self-defense on Oct. 21. However, jurors deadlocked on voluntary manslaughter while committed in the heat of passion.

Howard is scheduled for a hearing Friday in which the Kern County District Attorney’s Office could decide to retry her on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the heat of passion.

Howard’s daughter Bayley Frost asked the DA’s office Thursday to drop the case against her mother, saying it would be traumatic for witnesses to testify about their abuse once again.

“The trial itself was triggering, exhausting, embarrassing and awful,” Frost wrote in a statement. “The worst part of testifying was having to detail the sexual abuse I experienced in front of strangers, and I wouldn’t want to do that again.”

Following the hung jury, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel, spokesman for the office, said a new hearing date for a retrial is automatically set or for “discussions” regarding any potential resolutions. A gag order imposed on the case prohibits attorneys from speaking.

On June 2, 2019, Howard went to the Tehachapi Police Department to report sexual abuse allegations lodged by Frost against Pitts. Miranda Frost, Howard’s oldest daughter, had also reported Pitts to the police after she said he abused her, but the Kern County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges.

Police launched an investigation into Pitts and told Howard’s family to act nonchalant around him to ensure he remained unaware of the investigation about Bayley Frost’s allegations. Three days later, Pitts called Howard and asked if his grandson could play with Howard’s children.

Howard said yes, and Pitts started driving over to her house in his ATV.

Howard then put a handgun in her waistband, and went out to greet Pitts. During that interaction, Howard testified, she confronted Pitts with evidence of his molestation and shot him because his ATV started moving toward her. Howard testified that Pitts had previously attempted to rape her, struck her with a baseball bat while she was pregnant with Bayley Frost, beat her and dragged her by her hair while knocking her into household items.

Christian talked with The Californian on Wednesday about jurors’ deliberations. Witness testimony and evidence showed Howard acted in self-defense when facing off against her abuser, he said.

“I was in that room, listening to everything,” Christian said, adding that his background as a journalist allowed him to maintain an unbiased approach while weighing evidence and testimony.

The ATV’s tires were pointed toward Howard, according to crime scene evidence photos shown in court, which indicated to Christian that Pitts sought to run over Howard.

Even if Pitts wasn’t gunning the ATV, Christian said, it wouldn’t take much for Pitts to hurt Howard again, as he did in the past.

“This is somebody in fear of their life, and they are allowed to stand their ground,” Christian added.

When Howard was arrested after calling police, Christian said, he considered how Howard didn’t clam up when interviewed immediately.

“If this woman did the wrong thing, she would definitely not want to talk,” Christian noted.

Chief Trial Deputy Eric Smith pointed out to jurors Howard endured abuse by Pitts nearly 14 years prior to her shooting him.

But Christian said the lapsed time didn’t factor into his analysis. He said jurors could consider how Pitts previously treated Howard to help understand her emotional state.

“There’s no expiration date on domestic violence,” Christian added.

Christian said it spoke volumes to him that Howard didn’t kill Pitts when he immediately arrived at her house, or when police were investigating Bayley Frost’s allegations.

The juror added he doesn’t know the family involved. But as he watched their emotional turmoil being scrutinized by attorneys, he had a “deep sense of abiding conviction” Howard acted in self-defense.

Friday’s decision will determine what’s next for the Howard family.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @_ishanidesai on Twitter.

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