Five years ago, Brandon Howell stood trial on two murder charges. He got off.
Now he stands accused again, this time of allegedly killing three people -- apparently strangers to him -- in a tranquil Kansas City, Missouri, neighborhood. Two other victims are fighting for their lives in a local hospital, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said on Wednesday.
Prosecutors didn't win a conviction in the 2009 murder trial against Howell, in part because the bodies of the two victims were never found. But this time could be different, the prosecutor says.
"I woke up this morning, very determined and resolved to get justice in this case," Peters Baker said upon learning Howell had been charged again with murder. "And that's what we're going to do."
Howell, 34, was arrested after a perilous 12 hours during which three people died, two were left injured, one victim's car was stolen and another three individuals were assaulted at a motel. Peters Baker said that, based on the murder charges against him, a judge opted not to set bond for Howell, meaning he'll be held in Jackson County Jail presumably until his trial on the new charges.
Meanwhile, those affected by the violence he's accused of -- from the two hospitalized victims, to kin of the three people killed, to neighbors, to those allegedly attacked at the hotel -- have a hard road ahead as well. They're challenged to come to grips with the brutal, seemingly random nature of what happened.
"It scares all of us," Peters Baker said. "Because that is a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood, and it got hit tragically by a senseless, senseless acts of violence.
"But that perpetrator is behind bars right now," she added.
3 people killed were ages 63, 69, 88
The first sign of trouble came shortly after noon Tuesday, when a woman called 911 and said briefly, "Help at address, shotgun."
Then the call ended.
Kansas City police responded to find a woman, later identified as 69-year-old Suzanne Choucroun, dead on a driveway, according to a probable cause statement. They then went inside a neighbor's home and found a male and female apparently "assaulted and ... severely injured" in the basement.
In a front yard a few doors down, authorities came across 63-year-old Darrel Hurst and his 88-year-old mother Alice Hurst -- both of whom had been shot dead.
Witnesses shed more light on what happened, according to police, including how Choucroun was shot by a man with a shotgun after she'd left her residence. Not only that, but the suspect had sped away in a Toyota Highlander belonging to one of his victims.
The hunt was on. It led to a Motel 6, where three people -- one of whom had cuts on his head -- told police they'd been followed by a man and assaulted, before the alleged assailant ran off on foot.
The discovery of the stolen Toyota Highlander a short ways down the road helped authorities make the connection: The man allegedly behind the quintuple shootings was also the man at the hotel.
Six hours later -- just before midnight (1 a.m. ET Wednesday) -- they had a suspect in custody, Brandon Howell. They also had what Peters Baker says was the murder weapon, a 12-gauge shotgun that still had "four shotgun shells in the magazine tube, making it readily capable of lethal use," according to the probable cause statement.
Suspect is a convicted felon
The fact that Howell had that gun was reason enough for authorities to charge him with unlawful possession of a firearm.
He was convicted in a Kansas court in 2000 of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault and attempted aggravated robbery. Convicted felons aren't supposed to have guns -- even if they'd purchased them, as was true in this case, prior to their conviction.
Questioned about why a convicted felon allegedly did possess a gun, Peters Baker responded: "Did law enforcement go door-to-door to check under pillows or his bed for firearms? Probably not.
"But he's a convicted felon and fully understands that ... you're not allowed to possess a firearm."
Howell faces three first-degree murder, two first-degree assault, burglary and other charges. It's also possible that this case -- or at least the shotgun -- could shed light on the first time that Howell was charged with murder in the deaths of Tabitha Brewer and Nick Travis.
Peters Baker said she called the Brewer and Travis families, as well as the prosecutors who tried but failed to win a conviction in their deaths, soon after Howell was connected to these new killings.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James recalled that being a difficult case to prosecute, absent the victims' bodies or witnesses: "(Prosecutors) did everything they could. But in a circumstance like that, you have to have almost overwhelming evidence. And that evidence simply was not there."