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YOUNGSTOWN Testimony differs in weapons hearing



Published: Sat, September 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The defendant remains in jail with probation violation hearings looming.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Zachary T. Howell's lawyer believes vice cops stopped Howell on the East Side because they recognized him, not because he failed to signal a left turn.

Howell, 25, of Lincoln Park Drive, was in municipal court Friday afternoon for a preliminary hearing on charges of carrying a concealed weapon and illegal possession of a weapon because of a prior conviction.

Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly found probable cause that the crimes occurred and bound the felony charges over to a Mahoning County grand jury.

Trial is set in municipal court for Nov. 14 on Howell's misdemeanor charges of driving under suspension, drug abuse, no seat belt and failure to signal a turn.

All the charges resulted from a Sept. 11 traffic stop, during which a .45-caliber pistol, marijuana, $1,390, a Rolex watch, diamond earrings, gold bracelet, gold necklace and gold ring were found in the 2002 Cadillac that Howell was driving.

Conflicting testimony

Howell was stopped on Lincoln Park Drive by vice cops working a saturation patrol on the East Side. Although failure to signal a turn would typically result in a summons, Howell was arrested when a check through the index operator downtown revealed that his license was under suspension.

The gun and marijuana were found during a search of the Cadillac before having it towed, reports show.

During the preliminary hearing, Howell's lawyer, Thomas E. Zena, asked Patrolman Sam Mosca if he knew the driver was Howell before the traffic stop was made. Mosca testified that he didn't.

Mosca said he and his fellow officers didn't know Howell's identity until the driver provided identification.

Dana C. Guarnieri, assistant city prosecutor, called only Mosca to the witness stand. Detective Sgt. Mike Lambert had also been subpoenaed as a prosecution witness.

Zena, saying "since he's here," called Lambert to testify.

The lawyer asked Lambert if he knew the driver was Howell before the traffic stop.

Lambert said he did. The officer also said he mentioned that fact to Mosca and FBI Special Agent Mike Cizmar.

After court, The Vindicator asked Zena about the two officers' conflicting testimony.

"My guess? They said: 'There's Zach Howell, let's see what we can do,'" Zena said. "It wasn't about the turn signal."

Zena said Lambert was candid about recognizing Howell.

Validity of license

There's a question whether Howell's license is, in fact, not valid, Zena said. Mosca and Lambert testified that they did no follow-up to determine if what the index operator said about Howell's driving privileges was true.

The whole issue, Zena said, becomes "what led to the search?"

He questions if the officers had probable cause to inventory the Cadillac.

The traffic stop triggered a probation violation hearing for Howell in Judge James C. Evans' Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. The Adult Parole Authority put a hold on Howell at the jail pending the Oct. 11 hearing.

Howell pleaded guilty Jan. 31 to carrying a concealed weapon, and Judge Evans sentenced him to two years' community control, commonly called probation. The charge was from a June 25, 2001 arrest.

After Howell's arrest Sept. 11, a check of his records by The Vindicator also revealed that, although he was placed on three years' probation in January by Municipal Judge Robert P. Milich and ordered to pay a $600 fine on old charges from 2000, no one at the court followed through. Howell didn't pay the fine and didn't report to the probation department, officials said.

Howell's probation violation hearing is set for Oct. 2 in Judge Milich's court.

Neglected charges

Last November, Judge Milich acted on six charges from 2000 that lay untouched and forgotten in his court more than 9 1/2 months.

Court records show the following disposition of Howell's old cases:

U Improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle (May 27, 2000 arrest) -- pleaded no contest. Sentenced Jan. 18 to 180 days in jail with 150 suspended.

U Loud music in a motor vehicle (May 27, 2000 arrest) -- dismissed.

U Drug abuse marijuana (May 27, 2000 arrest) -- dismissed.

U Improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle (June 18, 2000 arrest) -- dismissed.

U Loud music in a motor vehicle, third conviction (June 18, 2000 arrest) -- pleaded no contest. Sentenced Jan. 18 to 60 days in jail, all suspended, three years' probation, forfeiture of the sound equipment and $600 fine. A third conviction carries up to 60 days in jail, a mandatory $600 fine and mandatory forfeiture of the sound equipment.

U Illegal possession of a weapon (June 18, 2000 arrest) -- bound over to a grand jury. Rejected.

Anthony J. Farris, assistant city prosecutor, has said that the time issues weakened prosecution of the cases and he salvaged what he could.

Judge Milich's journal entry of the Jan. 18 sentencing, meanwhile, notes that a show-cause hearing would be set for mid-March to determine if the fine had been paid by then. There's no record of such a hearing's being scheduled or that anyone noticed Howell's failure to pay.

meade@vindy.com




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