Cellphone focus at murder trial
Differing views emerge on evidence in death of Zachary T. Howell Sr.
YOUNGSTOWN — When a fire was spotted in a vehicle behind a vacant house in 2017, it wasn’t initially obvious the blaze was connected to the murder of a man campaigning to be mayor of the city.
But, following a 911 call that alerted authorities to a burning sports utility vehicle behind a vacant house on Edgar Avenue on the East Side on Feb. 20, 2017. Firefighters discovered a body in the back of the vehicle and radioed for the coroner’s office to come to the scene, according to audio recordings played for a jury Tuesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court during the trail of Lyric Moore, 25.
It was determined that the body belonged to Zachary T. Howell Sr., 40, who had started a campaign for Youngstown mayor about that time.
While firefighters were fighting the fire, a phone rang, Assistant Prosecutor Aaron Meikle told jurors during opening statements.
The phone didn’t belong to any of the first responders at the scene.
But, it did belong to Moore, then 21, who is charged with aggravated murder, murder and other charges in Howell’s death.
Terrell Martin, 41, of Winona Drive, accepted a plea agreement in March 2020, to murder, aggravated burglary, two gun specifications and tampering with evidence in the case. He received a sentence of 18 years to life in prison.
“That phone is one of the key reasons we are here today,” Meikle said. By examining the phone, detectives were able to determine the locations where the phone had been and other data, he said.
The evidence will show that Moore and Martin carried out the murder purposely, Meikle said.
But defense attorney Mark Lavelle said Moore has suffered from a disability throughout her life that limits her ability to understand things. She was placed in special education classes and work at menial jobs, he said.
He offered an explanation during opening statements about why Moore’s phone was in the vehicle.
At the time of Howell’s death, Moore was in romantic relationships with Howell and Martin, Lavelle said.
Several nights before Howell was killed, Martin texted Moore and asked her if she was with Howell, whether Howell had a weapon and whether the door was locked, Lavelle said.
She ignored the texts initially, but Martin started up again.
This time she answered the texts and told Martin what he wanted to know, Lavelle said.
Martin came to Howell’s house with another man, and Moore left, as Martin had told her to do, Lavelle said.
She was not allowed to take her phone with her when she left “so she didn’t contact police,” Lavelle said.
Moore did not know what happened after she left. “The next day, it became apparent that Zach had been shot, had been killed,” he said.
The trial resumes today.