An Augusta man who fired the bullet that killed a woman when he exchanged gunfire with another man pleaded guilty Monday to voluntary manslaughter.
Jabali J. Howard, 30, also pleaded guilty in Richmond County Superior Court to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Judge Michael N. Annis sentenced Howard to 20 years in prison, followed by five years on probation.
Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine told the judge that 23-year-old Courtney Bell was one of the people at the Red Carpet Inn on April 30, 2013, who tried to intervene and help Howard’s girlfriend after Howard beat her. Howard left, but returned, and the fight with Charity Lloyd began again.
Bell, the prosecutor said, was on the balcony on the second floor when Howard exchanged gun shots with another man on the second floor. Bell was hit while trying to get away. The bullet that killed her was a .38-caliber, the same caliber as Howard’s gun. The other shooter had a different caliber weapon, Paine said.
Defense attorney Lyndsey Hix, of the public defender’s office, told the judge that Howard never intended to shoot Bell but that his chances of convincing a jury that he fired in self-defense would rest solely on his testimony. The other man was just as responsible but he was never charged, she said.
Howard’s supporters asked the judge for leniency, describing Howard as a kind, loving person. Howard apologized to Bell’s mother.
Bell’s homicide wasn’t Howard’s first criminal conviction. He was convicted in September 2010 of obstruction of a law enforcement officer and domestic violence battery. In June 2012, he was convicted of battery – reduced from the charge of aggravated battery. In December 2012, he was convicted of aggravated assault.