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Murder suspect's return to Liberty unclear
Jason Howard accused of killing mother, stepfather
Jason Morris Howard1
Jason Morris Howard - photo by Macon Police photo
The capture of a man wanted for allegedly murdering his mother and stepfather in Gum Branch five years ago has relatives of the victims and authorities breathing easier.
Jason Morris Howard, 39, who had been sought in connection with the shooting deaths of Mildred and Jewel Cleveland in March 2004 was captured early Friday in Macon while allegedly breaking into a car.
“It feels as if a load has been lifted off my shoulders and I will finally have closure,” Mildred Cleveland’s daughter Jeweline Troha said. “For years I often wondered if this day was going to come.”
Acknowledging the case had been frustrating for authorities, Keith Moran, chief deputy for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department, said he had similar feelings.
“We are very happy to have Jason Howard in custody and would like to thank the Macon Police for capturing him,” Moran said Saturday morning as he and other detectives drove back to Hinesville after interviewing Howard.
He was arrested at approximately 12:30 a.m., Friday, when Macon Police Sgt. Mike Kenirey saw a man breaking into vehicles inside the fence of Enterprise Rental at 2135 Riverside Drive, according to MPD public information officer Sgt. Melanie Hofmann. The man was caught inside a vehicle and identified himself as Kevin Wayne Lewis. He said he was living in a Salvation Army home on the 1900 block of Broadway in Macon.
It was unclear how long he had been in Macon.
Kenirey reported he had been conducting a safe business check when he saw the suspect.
“Lewis’” fingerprints taken during booking later identified him as Howard. Hofmann said her department reacted with shock when they learned who had been arrested.
“We’re glad we were able to capture him and get him off the street,” the sergeant said. “It goes to show you no matter how small the crime, you never know what is going to follow.”
She said Howard did not resist arrest. He has been charged in Bibb County court with two counts of entering an auto, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of burglary tools.
Howard is being held in jail in Macon and Moran said it will be up to district attorneys there and here to decide whose charges take precedence. It is not known if Howard will resist extradition.
The Clevelands’ deaths and Howard’s run from the law were featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” The television show ran it several times with updates over the years.
Howard faces two count of felony murder through the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department.
In 2004, the deaths were not immediately discovered as relatives and friends said the Clevelands often traveled. However, they became concerned after weeks of not hearing from the couple, and after a relative and a friend received anonymous letters about the property and caring for a pet.
Howard, who had been living with the Clevelands, went missing about the same time.
The relatives and friend convinced authorities to launch the investigation and the bodies were found June 15, 2004, in a shallow grave just inside a shed behind their home, which faces Highway 196. The property had been searched before, but the bodies were not found until a cadaver dog was brought in to help.
At the time, Moran said nothing of value appeared to be missing from the home, though the Clevelands’ van was not on their property. It was found parked at a bus station in Savannah in early June of that year.
The deputy said the case has been a tough one.
“In all my years with the sheriff’s department, we never had someone who remained at large this long,” Moran said.
Troha, Cleveland’s daughter, said she was notified Friday of the arrest by the case’s lead investigator, LCSD Det. Capt Dennis Davis.
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