Defendant Spits on County Prosecutor During Court Hearing

A Wetzel County facing numerous charges after a 2010 incident involving his wife allegedly assaulted Wetzel County Prosecutor Tim Haught during a court hearing Tuesday.

John Michael Howell, 45, appeared for a hearing Tuesday in Wetzel County Circuit Court, carrying several documents. He walked past his appointed counsels’ table and approached Haught. After stopping a few feet away from Haught, Howell stated that he had something for Haught. He then spit saliva on Haught, after which he cursed at the prosecutor.

Howell was taken to the jury room. Circuit Judge David W. Hummel, upon returning to the courtroom after the commotion, ruled Howell would be left out of the room during the hearing. Hummel reiterated what had occurred for the record. Haught added that his back was turned during the incident.

Hummel ordered Howell be tested for transmittable diseases. Howell’s defense attorney, Martin Sheehan, took issue with the order, stating a search warrant would be needed. Hummel, however, disagreed.

“There was direct contempt in my courtroom,” Hummel said.

Haught said he would have Howell’s actions brought against him in trial.

Sheehan said the incident would disqualify himself and defense attorney Patricia Kurelac, since they were witnesses.

Hummel also ordered Northern Regional Jail guards to equip Howell with a spit guard, along with shackles on his ankles and wrists for future court dates.

On Jan. 18, 2011, Howell pleaded not guilty to a four-count indictment charging him with one count of kidnapping, one count of second-degree attempted sexual assault, one count of first-degree sexual assault and one count of malicious assault. The charges stem from a December 2010 incident in which Howell allegedly attacked his wife.

The two had been separated since August and have a child in common.

Howell has had approximately five other attorneys prior to Sheehan and Kurelac. The case was also formerly presided by Judge Mark A. Karl, who recused himself in Oct. 2013.

After lengthy discussion on other trial-related motions, jury selection for the trial was scheduled for Aug. 11. The case will be tried beginning Sept. 3.