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Life in prison - with forgiveness

That's what a career criminal got after being found guilty of stabbing a teacher two years ago.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published July 1, 2005


photo
[Times photos: Chris Zuppa]
On the witness stand Thursday, Brenda Hill recalled the day in 2003 when a man stabbed her after she got into her car to leave a doughnut shop. She says she forgave her attacker, Matthew A. Fowler, a long time ago.

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Attorney James May, right, talks with his client, Matthew A. Fowler, who was found guilty of three felony counts related to stabbing Hill. Fowler, who has served time for other violent crimes, was sentenced to life in prison.

TAMPA - Brenda Hill is sure there were angels there that day.

She didn't see them, but she heard them when she leaned on her car horn as Matthew A. Fowler plunged a butcher knife into her gut in a Tampa parking lot.

And they were there Thursday when a jury convicted Fowler, 40, of attempted murder nearly two years after he attacked the Lutz woman in front of a Tampa doughnut shop.

Slight and soft-spoken, Hill, 56, spent about 40 minutes on the witness stand Thursday recounting the day she got caught in the crosshairs of a career criminal. On Aug. 20, 2003, the Berkeley Preparatory School science teacher was on her way to get her hair done when she decided to stop at the Krispy Kreme store at 8425 Florida Ave. at about 3:40 p.m. to buy doughnuts for the salon's staff.

She noticed Fowler on the way into the store but thought little of it. She thought twice after she got back in her Volvo SUV and found him standing next to it, angrily demanding that she take him where he wanted to go.

"I was surprised," Hill said. "I actually thought, "Well, it's a homeless person. I should try to give him money."'

But when Fowler flashed the 8-inch knife, Hill knew she was in serious trouble.

"I knew I could not go with him," Hill said.

And she didn't. Instead, Hill shouted for help and accidentally leaned on her car horn.

"I think God's angels moved my shoulder that day," she said.

That's when Fowler stabbed the left side of her abdomen and sliced gashes into her thigh and left hand. She blasted the car horn again. In an instant, Fowler was gone.

About 15 minutes later, police found Fowler nearby and arrested him. He was charged with first-degree attempted murder with a deadly weapon, attempted armed kidnapping and attempted armed carjacking. The arrest came roughly 20 days after he had been released from prison after serving time for other violent crimes. Previously convicted of aggravated battery, robbery and other crimes, Fowler has spent most of his life in prison.

Prosecutor Curt Allen reminded jurors of that fact Thursday, saying that the convicted felon could easily have killed Hill that day if it hadn't been for her quick thinking.

"He didn't count on Ms. Hill deciding that day that she was not going to be taken at knifepoint in her car," Allen said.

Fowler's defense attorney, Chad Glenn, did not present any witnesses during the daylong trial. Glenn acknowledged that Fowler attacked the schoolteacher that day. Glenn had little to say about DNA evidence that matched the blood found on Fowler's shirt and blood found on the knife he used to attack Hill. But he said Fowler didn't intend to kill Hill; he simply panicked when she leaned on the car horn, then stabbed her. He cautioned jurors to keep that in mind as they decided on whether to convict Fowler of lesser charges. Fowler looked on impassively with a dazed smile.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco issued the jury lengthy and complex instructions. The six-member jury deliberated for about 45 minutes before returning with guilty verdicts on all three felony counts. The conviction of her assailant brought a tearful response from Hill, who received a hug from her husband and a victims' rights advocate.

Things became even more emotional when Fowler apologized after Sisco sentenced him to life in prison.

"I apologize for stabbing you," Fowler said as Hill wiped away a tear. "I didn't mean to stab you."

Hill replied, "I hope God is with you always."

Outside the courtroom, Hill said she was satisfied with the trial's outcome. Flushed from the emotional day, she said she thought Fowler's apology was sincere and that she does not hold a grudge.

"I forgave him a long time ago," Hill said. "I don't live with hate and anger. That's harder on me than on anyone else."

--Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 813 226-3337 or rondeaux@sptimes.com

[Last modified July 1, 2005, 01:23:13]


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