Goodyear man pleads guilty in grandmother's killing

PHOENIX - A Goodyear man charged with killing his grandmother last year by beating her with a shovel and slitting her throat over her strict curfew rules and how much she charged him for rent pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Friday.

At a change-of-plea hearing, Maricopa County prosecutors said Jason Eric Howell also pleaded guilty to child abuse and aggravated assault charges in another case. Sentencing is set for July 1.

Howell, 40, originally was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, hindering prosecution and abandoning a body.

Howell told authorities he first attempted to kill Helen Jean Lee, 78, while she slept, but stopped when she awoke, court records show.

A few days later, Howell allegedly attacked his grandmother with a shovel and then slit her throat before disposing of her body in the desert.

Goodyear police said Howell led investigators to a desert area near Gila Bend, about 75 miles southwest of Phoenix, where Lee's body was found on Nov. 2.

She was reported missing days earlier after a relative called police concerned that she couldn't reach Lee. Detectives found what they described as a bloody crime scene inside the woman's Goodyear home.

Police said they had responded to calls at Lee's home numerous times in the past as Howell had hallucinations and displayed "erratic behavior and violent tendencies."

The same day Lee was reported missing, Howell was arrested on multiple charges, including assaulting a police officer and kidnapping.

Police in Chandler, about 30 miles east of Goodyear, said Howell stole an SUV that was idling outside an elementary school.

A 12-year-old girl in the backseat managed to escape the moving vehicle and suffered minor injuries.

Howell then led authorities on a chase that ended after he rammed a Chandler police officer's patrol car. He later told authorities that he was drunk and high on methamphetamine at the time.

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