Prosecution rests in case of Simon Howell’s death
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Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to accurately identify that the case is in proceedings, not deliberation, and to correct a misspelling of Simon Howell’s name.
Proceedings continued on the fourth day in the negligent homicide case of The People v. Harry Watkins. Watkins, 53, is accused of shooting and killing then-26-year-old Simon Howell of West Virginia on Nov. 9, 2020, while the two were with a larger hunting group outside Kremmling.
Watkins’ May 2021 plea of not guilty set up the trial, which began Monday. The prosecution made it through their witnesses and rested their case Thursday afternoon, and the trial continued with the defense’s case after a lunch break.
The trial began Thursday with the defense’s cross-examination of Colorado Parks and Wildlife Investigator Kyle Banks. Defense attorney David Jones questioned Banks about several topics, many of which had to do with Colorado law. At some points, Judge Mary Hoak stopped Jones to remind him to only ask one question at a time so that she could be sure she knew which question Banks was answering.
Jones’ questioning focused on whether or not Howell had violated any laws or statutes by taking off his orange hat and vest while field dressing an elk and the legality of Watkins taking a shot without full view of the animal.
Jones asked Banks if he would ever attribute negligence to the deceased in a situation like this, referencing the fact that Howell was not wearing his orange hat and vest at the time of his death. Jones also referenced a state law that requires hunters to wear orange or pink while hunting.
When he was asked about situations where it may be reasonable to shoot at an animal without having a full view of it, Banks said the only time it would be appropriate is if the hunter had full view of the animal and never lost sight of it before it walked behind a bush or tree.
Redirect questioning from District Attorney Matt Karzen looked to undermine some of Jones’ legal points. He pressed Banks on the claim that Colorado law does not require hunters to have 100% certainty in their target identification, although that is something consistently taught in hunter safety courses.
Banks agreed that Colorado law does not have a specific requirement, but he also agreed with Karzen that the state requires hunters to go to safety courses that teach that principle in order to get their hunting licenses.
Karzen also asked Banks about situations where people could legally be in the woods without wearing orange or pink clothes, like when people are taking photos or doing certain kinds of hunting that do not require high-visibility clothing.
The prosecution called Dr. Michael Burson, a forensic pathologist, as their next witness. Chief Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Dowdell questioned Burson, who the court established as an expert in his field. Burson performed an autopsy on Howell in Loveland, and Dowdell presented photos from the autopsy.
Burson’s testimony and the photos established the presence of bullet fragments in Howell’s neck, bullet entry and exit wounds on the left side of his face and significant tissue loss on the back of his neck. Burson said the cause of Howell’s death was the gunshot wound on his neck.
Jones’ only question during his cross-examination had to do with low levels of THC found in Howell’s blood. Burson said he would not expect the level to cause any impairment and that the level gave him no indication of when Howell might have ingested the drug.
The third witness, Harry Waltermier, went on the hunting trip in Nov. 2020 when Howell died. Waltermier, who is Watkin’s brother-in-law, drove to Grand County from his home in Pennsylvania for the trip.
Karzen’s questioning of Waltermier focused his perspective on what happened on the day of Howell’s death and in the days leading up to it. Waltermier testified that Watkins took him to the place he shot from to show him that he could see no orange from that vantage point. Karzen asked about the view he had from that position, and Waltermier said he had very little obstructing his view except for a small tree that was blocking his view of Howell’s orange hat and vest.
In his cross-examination, Jones also asked questions about the days leading up to the incident. Both sides asked questions about the group’s radio communications as well. Waltermier did not have his radio on during the incident, but heard some communication when he was close enough to another member of the group. He said he did hear Watkins calling for help after shooting Howell, but never heard Howell communicate to the group that he was going to attend to the wounded elk.
Douglas Winters, a chief investigator with the district attorney’s office, testified next about Howell’s cell phone. Dowdell showed photos of the phone and asked Winters about his efforts to unlock the iPhone. Winters testified that neither he, nor a computer forensics specialist in Mesa County or even a U.S. Secret Service laboratory could not gain access to the phone.
The last witness in the prosecution’s case was Howell’s mother, Lisa. Dowdell asked Lisa basic information about her son, like his birthday and height, then had her identify her son in two photos. One photo was the last one Howell ever sent his mother — a selfie of him on the hunting trip.
Jones asked Lisa to identify her son in five photos, which she did in all but one. Neither side had any further questions, nor did the jury, and the prosecution rested its case.
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