The saying goes that justice delayed is justice denied, and that would seem to be true in the case of Brandon Howell.
As reported earlier in the Sentinel, Howell was arrested four years ago for the brutal murder of five senior citizens in south Kansas City. At the request of his own attorneys, Howell has still not gone to trial. They argue that to protect his constitutional rights in a capital murder case, an attorney skilled in such cases must be available. Apparently, such an attorney will not have time enough until April 2019, nearly five years after the murders.
Howell is getting all the justice he wants at the pace he wants. It is the family members of the dead whose justice is being denied. More perversely still, the pace will slow if Howell is convicted. On average, an accused murderer spends 15 years on death row after sentencing. A quarter of those sentenced to death will die of natural causes.
Just 65 years ago, justice moved at a much swifter pace. On September 28, 1953, a woman named Bonnie Heady stopped by Notre Dame de Sion, an elementary school in Kansas City, Missouri, and asked if she could take her nephew home. Heady said the boy’s mother had suffered a heart attack.
In that more trusting age the good nuns obliged, and Heady drove off with six-year-old Bobby Greenlease. Knowing that Bobby’s father was a wealthy auto dealer, Heady and her partner Carl Austin Hall planned to ask the Greenleases for $600,000 to free their son. Hall, however, had no intention of keeping his end of the bargain. He shot and killed Bobby the day he and Heady kidnapped him.
On October 5, the pair retrieved their ransom money and took off for St. Louis. Hall’s profligate spending caused his cab driver to report him to the police. On October 6, the police arrested Hall who promptly fingered Heady.
Poverty did not drive Hall to a life of crime. Born to a wealthy family, he had squandered his inheritance and hoped to get rich once again. He met Heady, a divorcée, in a bar months before the incident. She proved to be a willing accomplice.
There was no doubt about the pair’s guilt. Bobby’s body was found buried at Hall’s farm in St. Joseph. Both confessed. In November 1953, the pair went on trial. The jury deliberated for little more than an hour before finding them guilty and sentencing them to death.
On December 18, 1953, less than three months after Bobby’s kidnapping and murder, Hall and Heady ended their days together in a Missouri gas chamber. In their case, justice was sufficiently swift and terrible that even Hollywood has not memorialized it. There has been no “Bonnie and Carl,” and none is in the works.
The death penalty is a much more powerful deterrent when would-be killers can see it playing out in real time. Obviously, not all cases can or should be processed as quickly as Heady and Hall’s, but none should ever move as slowly as Brandon Howell’s.