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Murder case moving toward trial
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Murder suspect Jason Howard, right, sits behind his attorney, Brandon Clark, during a hearing Thursday morning in Liberty County Superior Court. Howards case appears to be moving toward a trial. - photo by Patty Leon

The case against murder suspect Jason Howard appears to be moving toward a trial.

Howard is charged with six counts of murder, two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies, one count of receipt, possession or transfer of a firearm by convicted felon or felony first offender and two counts of concealing death of another. The charges stem from his alleged involvement in the 2004 deaths of his mother and stepfather, Mildred and Jewel Cleveland, at their Gum Branch home.

Howard gained notoriety when his case was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.”

He was on the lam for five years but was caught in Macon on March 27, 2009, for allegedly trying to break into cars.
According to state prosecutors, the case tentatively has been set for trial in March 2012.

However, prosecutors said they’re concerned about motions filed by Howard’s previous public defender, Brett Williams.

Of particular concern to the state is a motion filed by Williams in August 2009 for a mental evaluation. That motion later was amended in October 2009 but, according to the state, neither the original nor amended versions were submitted to the court for determination.

The state is concerned the defense could file a new motion for a mental evaluation, leaving the state with insufficient time before the trial to prepare any rebuttal evidence if needed, thereby delaying the trial date.

“With respect to the request for a mental evaluation, we are not requesting a court order for a mental evaluation,” Howard’s new public defender, Brandon Clark, said.

Clark would not disclose his defense strategy but said that if an evaluation is needed, the motion would be filed early enough to allow the state ample time to prepare its case.

The Clevelands last were seen at a doctor’s appointment March 30, 2004 and officially were reported missing May 5, 2004, when a family friend received a cryptic letter asking her to check on the house and take care of the dog.

At first, authorities treated the incident as a missing persons case because the couple was known to travel frequently and for extended periods of time.

However, detectives contacted a relative who met them at the missing couple’s home and discovered their wallets, IDs, a purse and medication all were left behind. Police stepped up the search and brought a cadaver dog to the property, where the Clevelands’ bodies were discovered buried in a shallow grave June 15, 2004.

Autopsies revealed their identities. Both had gunshot wounds to the head and Mildred Cleveland’s body exhibited signs of physical trauma.

Authorities believe Howard may be responsible for the Clevelands’ deaths.

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