ANDERSON — A Tippecanoe County man likely faces the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of murder on Wednesday.
Clay Howard, a 31-year-old inmate at the Pendleton Correctional Facility, was found guilty of the 2007 murder of fellow inmate Kent McDonald by a 12-person jury in Madison Circuit Court 3. The one-week trial wrapped up Wednesday afternoon.
According to court discussions and the probable cause affidavit, on April 6, 2007, McDonald was found beaten to death and covered with a blanket in his cell. There was also evidence McDonald was strangled. McDonald's cellmates, Howard and Paul Rayle, were immediately tagged as lead suspects in the case. Evidence connected the two to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, which has taken a pledge to kill child molesters. McDonald was serving a prison sentence for a 2005 child molest conviction.
Rayle is a co-defendant in the case, and his trial is scheduled for next month.
Parts of the case were peculiar, including the fact that the charges weren't filed until 2010. Judge Thomas Newman also allowed the jury to travel to the prison to see the scene of the murder on Friday. On Wednesday, in an attempt to solidly connect Howard to the Aryan Brotherhood, deputy prosecutor Jeff Lockwood had Howard remove his shirt to reveal a swastika tattoo to the jurors. Lockwood said the evidence against Howard was strong, but called the investigation a mess.
Defense attorney Christopher Cage attacked the state's lack of forensic evidence in his closing argument, and said there was no trace of Howard found on McDonald's body and vice versa. He also pointed to a roughly 30-minute to one-hour window that morning when Howard was at breakfast and anyone in the cell block had access to the cell.
But after the verdict was read, jurors said some of the most important pieces of evidence were provided by another inmate, Toby Hicks, and a letter Howard had written to his father, seemingly confessing to the crime.
"We want you to tell this cold-blooded killer, 'No, you're not allowed to kill someone just because you don't like them,' and return a verdict of guilty," Lockwood said in his closing argument.
The jurors took about an hour and a half to find Howard guilty.
He's currently serving charges of attempted murder and robbery from a 2003 case and has a projected release date of 2021. The murder conviction will add anywhere from 45 to 65 years to his sentence. Newman set a sentencing date of March 24.
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