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Prosecution: Evasion answered plea for help

Testimony shows that Bernice Bowen did little to help officers. However, the defense tries to shift the blame for the officers' deaths to Hank Earl Carr.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 1999


Tampa police Detective Julie Massucci cries as she tells the jury of when she first learned fellow detectives Randy Bell and Ricky Childers were dead. [Times photo: Tony Lopez]
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TAMPA -- Struggling to keep her voice steady, homicide detective Julie Massucci testified Tuesday of the shattering moments when she learned that two fellow detectives were dead at the hands of a man being arrested in the shooting of a little boy.

One minute on that busy May afternoon, Massucci was gulping down a late lunch at the police station. The next, a trembling co-worker was telling her that her friends, two men who were like family to her, had been slain in their police car.

So there in the station, Massucci testified Tuesday, she knelt next to Bernice Bowen, the girlfriend of the wanted man and mother of the dead boy. She held Bowen's hand, she said. She asked for her help.

Review the Times coverage of Hank Earl Carr's rampage
"I said, "He's already killed three people. You know he shot your son and he's killed two of my friends, two of my partners," Massucci told the jury Tuesday. " "I don't want him to kill anybody else. You've got to help us.' "

But as the trial of Bernice Bowen opened Tuesday, the prosecutor said Bowen did anything but help.

In an unusual and emotional case, the 25-year-old former Kmart clerk and topless dancer is accused of being an accessory after the fact in the deaths of her 4-year-old son and three police officers, all shot by her boyfriend in a single day last year.

The killer was Hank Earl Carr, suspected of shooting Bowen's son, Joey, in the face that morning with a high-powered assault rifle.

Carr was in the back seat of a police car when he escaped from his handcuffs, grabbed a detective's gun and killed Tampa Detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell. Carr also gunned down Trooper James "Brad" Crooks before holing up in a Hernando gas station and killing himself.

Investigators charge that Bowen deliberately identified Carr as Joseph Bennett, the name of her ex-husband and father of her children, so detectives wouldn't realize he was a violent ex-con wanted in several states.

They say she didn't tell them Carr carried a handcuff key around his neck or tucked in his pocket, or that he swore to never go back to prison. They say the twosome had a plan in place for the day police finally caught up with Carr, and that Bowen told a friend she would go out by his side "in a blaze of glory."

But Bowen's attorney, John Kromholz, told the jury there was someone other than Bowen to blame for the horror of that day.

"Terrible acts of this monster, Hank Earl Carr," he said of the killings. "But we're looking around the courtroom, and we don't have Hank Earl Carr."

Hillsborough County Circuit Court bailiff Art Hulme, left, Tampa police Detective R. Stanton and state attorney's office investigator Douglas Bieniek look over an assault rifle owned by Hank Earl Carr.
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Because the state must prove Bowen aided Carr after she learned of the crimes he had committed, timing is critical in her defense.

Kromholz says Bowen gave up the name "Carr," as well as his mother's address, soon after learning of the detectives' slayings. Investigators charge it was a long delay before she gave the name "Hank Carr" among other possible names.

Prosecutor Shirley Williams told the jury how Massucci begged Bowen to help and Bowen said she would.

"The defendant looked straight into Detective Massucci's eyes said, "His name is Joseph Bennett,' " Williams said.

In a jailhouse interview last year, Bowen denied that the emotional scene with Massucci took place.

With Tuesday's testimony came some emotion. A juror began to cry when she saw pictures taken at at the scene where the detectives were killed and at the medical examiner's officer. Childers' parents, his wife and his son left the courtroom just before they were shown.

Bowen, dressed in a donated black blazer with her hair neatly braided, wept through some of Tuesday's testimony.

Jurors were given legal pads and red pens for notetaking and, in an unusual twist, were told by Circuit Judge Dan Perry that they could submit questions for consideration once the attorneys were done questioning each witness.

Jurors had no questions Tuesday, but several scribbled notes on their legal pads.

The panel got a glimpse into the household Bowen and Carr shared with Joey and Kayla, then 5. Officers found assault rifles, assorted ammunition, a bullet-proof vest, a SWAT-like helmet and numerous bullet holes in the small garage apartment, as well as several magazines about how to change a person's identity.

Williams said Bowen had been helping Carr stay out of jail since 1995. When they settled in Florida, she was identifying him to child welfare authorities as "James Earl Reid."

Also Tuesday came testimony that Bowen told investigators she was outside when her son was fatally shot. But an expert said there was high-velocity blood spatter on her clothes, and a neighbor said she heard the shot and then saw Bowen run out.

The state may rest its case today. Kromholz has said the only defense witness, if any, would be Bowen.

If convicted of all the pending charges against her, including a separate trial on two counts of child neglect, Bowen could face up to 29 years in prison.

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