CANDACE WEST / MIAMI HERALD STAFF Convicted child-killer Howard Steven Ault, right, confers with his lawyer, Mitchell Polay, as testimony gets under way Monday in a new sentencing hearing.
Posted on Tue, Aug. 14, 2007
BY JENNIFER LEBOVICH jlebovich@MiamiHerald.com
When 11-year-old DeAnn Mu'min and her younger sister, Alicia Jones, 7, left for school one November morning, their mother never imagined she would never again see them alive.
Ten years later, Donna Jones has still not been able to find closure for her little girls. Their convicted killer -- Howard Steven Ault -- sentenced long ago to death, is once again in Broward County court hoping to escape execution.
''I want it to be over, everything and my children, you know, everything to be at rest, you know, at peace,'' said Jones, who on Monday faced Ault, 41, at a new sentencing hearing. ``I'm just tired with having to go through this or see him again.''
At the time of the murder, Jones was homeless, living with the girls in Easterlin Park in Oakland Park. On the witness stand, she recalled meeting Ault at the county park, and how he fixed her car and offered to let her use his shower at his house.
On Nov. 4, 1996, Ault offered her daughters a ride home from school in his truck.
But, instead of taking them home, he drove them to his house in Fort Lauderdale, where he raped DeAnn, then strangled her and her sister. He then hid their bodies in his attic.
A nervous Jones -- speaking haltingly -- recalled how she went to Ault's house that night and asked him if he'd seen her daughters.
'He said, `No,' he didn't know where they were,'' she said from the stand. ``He hadn't seen them. He asked me not to call the police because he had problems with them.''
Two days later, police found their bodies in Ault's attic.
''I miss my daughters a lot,'' Jones, who lives in Lauderdale Lakes, told reporters outside the courtroom. ''I've wondered what it would be like and well, I just thought she'd be here with me now,'' she said of her older daughter, DeAnn.
Both girls were straight-A students at Lloyd Estates Elementary School in Oakland Park. DeAnn was a safety patrol and was often seen holding hands with her younger sister. DeAnn loved to read, her teacher, Winnifred Walters testified Monday.
''She wanted to do well in school, she wanted to be somebody,'' said Walters, predicting that DeAnn would have excelled and gone on to college.
In opening arguments, prosecutor Tim Donnelly relayed details of the gruesome crime and told jurors that Ault's actions called for the death penalty.
''I ask you to sentence him to death for each of the murders,'' Donnelly said.
Ault's attorney mounted a mental health defense, telling the nine-man, six-woman jury that Ault has an abnormal brain and was molested as a child by an older brother.
Mitchell Polay asked the jury to take ''great care'' before deciding whether to sentence Ault to death.
''You'll see there's significant mental illness,'' Polay told jurors. ``There's problems with his brain. I'm going to ask you not to recommend death for someone who is sick.''
At the time of the murders, Ault was already listed on the state's registry of sexual predators for a 1994 attack on a girl.
That woman, now 20, testified that Ault gave her a ride home from Target when she was 7 years old and attacked her.
''He said if I wanted to go home to stop crying,'' she said, speaking softly from the witness stand. ``He said if I told anyone he'd kill me.''
Two other women testified Ault had sexually assaulted them when they were young girls. Ault was convicted of those crimes.
Ault was sentenced to death in 2000 for the murders, but in 2003, the Florida Supreme Court vacated his sentence because of a mistake during the original jury selection.
Outside of court, Jones said she just wants to see justice for her daughters.
''I used to think maybe he should [die] because he took their lives and he shouldn't deserve to live too,'' Jones said.
``They're not here, and I think they didn't deserve to die. I think they should be living and they're not.''