Getaway driver gets 21-year sentence
The teenager who bought the shotgun her clown-masked boyfriend used to shoot a man during a Little Rock bank robbery was sentenced to 21 years in prison on Monday.
Jasha Marie Howard, 19, will be almost 30 by the time she qualifies for parole. She pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, theft and furnishing a gun to a minor earlier this month for her role in the January 2016 holdup at the Bank of America branch on Cantrell Road. She apologized before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright imposed sentence.
“I would like to apologize for my actions,” a tearful Howard said, describing how the past 13 months in jail have taught her to be more careful about who her friends are and to appreciate her family more.
The holdup was recorded on bank surveillance and shows a clown-masked robber storming into the building waving the weapon and demanding money.
After tellers surrendered $2,947, even providing a bag for the robber to carry the cash, the robber appeared to be leaving the bank, the video shows.
But he stops, levels the weapon and fires it, seemingly right at the bank manager who was seated behind a desk with his hands raised.
The slug wounded the man in the right shoulder and nearly severed his right finger, narrowly missing his head. The slug penetrated the bank wall and lodged in the building next door.
Howard and Tyrone Eugene Randolph were caught about 4 hours later after 1/2 a bystander followed their fleeing car and was able to give police enough information for investigators to track the couple down. They both confessed, with Randolph, then 16, telling police the shooting was an accident.
Defense attorney Bill James asked Wright for the minimum 10-year sentence, citing Howard’s remorse at what she’d done, her difficult home life and and her limited role in the robbery — she never went inside the bank and didn’t do anything to cause Randolph to fire the gun.
But prosecutor Scott Duncan argued that Howard deserved at least 20 years. Howard admitted to helping plan the holdup with Randolph, hoped to get enough money to get out of Arkansas at least temporarily, and drove Randolph to and from the bank, Duncan said.
“This was not a crime of opportunity,” Duncan said. “This was a bank robbery where the manager was shot.”
But most significantly, Howard was the one responsible for arming Randolph, the prosecutor said. She bought the .20-gauge shotgun Randolph used, then watched him saw the gun down the night before the robbery, Duncan said.
If Randolph, who was 16 at the time, had not had a gun when he stormed into the bank, manager Sam Lewis wouldn’t have been shot, Duncan said.
Lewis, who now works at a different branch, testified that it took him 4 months to recover enough to return to work.
The 45-year-old manager showed the judge his bent right index finger, stating that he’s about to undergo his third surgery as doctors try to straighten and restore mobility to the digit. Following the surgery will be “very excruciating” rehabilitation, Lewis told the judge.
A finger might seem insignificant to some, Lewis said, but the injury makes it harder for him to get dressed, tie his shoes and hold onto workout equipment. It’s also preventing him from being able to hold his nieces and nephews, Lewis said.
He re-enacted the way he was holding his hands up when he was shot, showing how the slug missed his head by a couple of inches.
“It could have gone either way,” he said. “A near-death experience will change your life.”
Aside from the physical wounds, Lewis said he has been emotionally traumatized. He said he lives his life waiting to be robbed again, a type of anxiety he never experienced before he was shot.
“It’s just a matter of time before it happens again,” Lewis said. “It’s just changed the way I view people.”
Bank clerk Shunda Canada told the judge she too worries daily about another robbery, saying the experience has made her much more leery of anything out of the ordinary, even if it’s just someone who just has his hands in his pockets.
“You just panic at every little thing that’s different … coming through the door,” she said.
Canada, who still works at the Cantrell branch, told the judge she was terror-stricken when the gun-wielding masked man burst into the bank and headed for her station.
“I started screaming, screaming, screaming, screaming,” she said.
Howard’s parents both asked the judge for leniency, testifying that Howard was truly repentant for what she’d done. They described her as a good girl led astray by bad influences. Both Shelese Howard, 40, and Jason Dean Howard, 37, cried as they told the judge about how they’d become estranged from Howard. The couple divorced in May 2003 after about six years of marriage and two children.
Jason Howard, a Pine Bluff police officer, told the judge he’d tried to keep his daughter away from bad influences. Howard said he never met Randolph before the bank robbery.
He said they’d been rebuilding their relationship since her arrest.
“I was more of the disciplinarian. They wanted their freedom and I guess, for awhile, they had it,” he said. “I told her that’s why I used to be so hard on them so they wouldn’t end up like this.”
Shelese Howard told the judge that her daughter’s time in jail has also given them an opportunity to patch things up.
“My baby girl is back,” she testified. “I think God everyday that I have a daughter like her.”
She told the judge she had tried to warn her daughter that Randolph was a bad influence but couldn’t get the girl to listen to her.
“I felt like he turned her against me,” she testified.
Randolph has testified to what he did during the robbery. He is currently appealing the judge’s ruling denying his motion to be prosecuted in juvenile court.
“I was more of the disciplinarian. They wanted their freedom and I guess, for awhile, they had it. I told her that’s why I used to be so hard on them so they wouldn’t end up like this.”
— Jason Howard, father of 19-year-old Jasha Marie Howard, who was sentenced to 21 years in prison for her role in a Little Rock bank robbery