DMV shooting case was trial of the year

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 05:04 PM

The man who shot and robbed the husband-and-wife managers of the N.C. License Plate Agency in 2010 was sentenced to 72 years.

Otis Howie Jr. went on trial in Union County Superior Court in early October. He stood accused of attacking Robbie and Crystal Jordan in the parking lot of the N.C. License Plate Agency on Roosevelt Boulevard, just after the agency closed. Robbie was shot in the face and hand, but Crystal received several life-threatening bullet wounds to her chest. Investigators said Howie took a bank deposit bag and Crystal’s purse before running out of the Bundy Shopping Center and to a waiting car.

Howie pleaded innocent. His defense attorney, Miles Helms, boldly challenged evidence and testimony submitted by the State Bureau of Investigation, based on several high-profile controversies involving the agency’s crime lab. Helms tried to argue that lead prosecutor John Phillip’s case was built on poor investigation and faulty forensic testing.

Early in the trial, Robbie Jordan testified about his terror when shot twice and the days that Crystal teetered toward death. Dr. Virgilio Ipapo, the Carolinas Medical Center - Union surgeon on emergency room duty the night of the shooting, also testified about the emergency surgery that saved Crystal’s life. 

Ipapo explained the internal injuries Crystal sustained. Bullet fragments were embedded in her vital organs and the large arteries near her heart were badly damaged. Ipapo wept on the stand as he described how critical her condition was. Ultimately, his emergency surgery stabilized Crystal long enough to transfer her to Carolinas Medical Center - Main. After a lengthy recovery, Crystal still suffers effects from the injuries that nearly killed her, but lives a near-normal life.

In his cross-examination of SBI firearm forensic scientist Jennifer Slish, Helms scrutinized her testing of the gun police alleged Howie owned. Though she found several similarities, her tests could not prove absolutely that the bullets taken out of the Jordans’ bodies were also fired from Howie’s gun.

Phillips and Helms clashed constantly over admitted evidence, witnesses, testimony and how questions were worded. Judge Anna Mills-Wagoner initially ordered the media not to report what happened in the courtroom when the jury was out of the room. Because anything said in open court is public record, she later retracted that order. Phillips made the same unsuccessful request to the media the next day.

After a train of expert witnesses and hours of videotaped interviews, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. Judge Wagoner sentenced Howie to between 72 and 98 years in prison and ordered him to pay $43,000 in restitution.