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Carr's guns filled boy's life, trial shows

The man who killed Bernice Bowen's son - the man prosecutors say she protected - had the boy play with weapons, witnesses say.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 1999


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Bernice Bowen reacts as the medical examiner describes the wounds he found on her sons face and head during his autopsy of her son. [Times photo: Tony Lopez]
TAMPA -- In the last months of his life, 4-year-old Joey Bennett knew how put a dismantled handgun back together with flourish while the man he called Daddy looked on proudly.

Hank Earl Carr also taught the towheaded boy to draw his BB pistol like a cowboy. At the same time, Carr would whip out the Glock handgun he always kept tucked in his waistband and aim it, western-style, at the child.

"That's the way they would greet each other," Steve Adams, Carr's former co-worker, told a jury Wednesday.

The chilling testimony about the man who killed Joey with a single shot to the face from a high-powered assault rifle played out before a jury Wednesday, the second day of the state's case against Carr's girlfriend, Bernice Bowen.

Detectives charge that Bowen, 25, helped him that infamous day last year when Carr killed her son, escaped police custody and gunned down two detectives and a state trooper. They say Bowen, a former strip dancer, intentionally gave them the wrong name for Carr, did not identify him as a wanted ex-con who swore never to return to prison, and did not tell them about Carr's hidden handcuff key.

Review the Times coverage of Hank Earl Carr's rampage
Bowen's attorney has told the jury that the person responsible for the carnage is not around to blame, since Carr killed himself, and that Bowen did help investigators after learning the officers were dead.

To prove charges that Bowen was an accessory after the fact, the state must first show that that Carr committed manslaughter when he shot Joey, escaped, and committed murder when he shot Tampa police Detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell and Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James "Brad" Crooks.

That brought before the jury testimony about bullet wounds, including that of a medical examiner who spoke about the bodies of two homicide detectives he had known for more than a decade. It brought in testimony that the couple had a plan in place for when police finally found Carr.

"He stated that he wouldn't go to jail," Adams said. He said Bowen told him "she would stand by her man and go down in a blaze of glory."

"They hated the police," Adams said.

Neighbors and friends spoke of Carr's love for weapons, from semiautomatic rifles to Japanese swords. There was testimony of numerous bullet holes in the walls of the apartment the couple shared with Bowen's two young children, of guns and gun parts and ammunition in the home. Neighbors said Carr was rarely, if ever, without a firearm in his holster or his pants.

"It was big ones and it was small ones and it was little bitty ones," said Venus Taylor.

Taylor recalled that a few months before Joey's death that Carr proudly told her, "Watch this."

He handed the boy the pieces of a small handgun Carr had taken apart for cleaning. "Joey put it back together, slammed it and handed it to Boo," Taylor said, using Carr's nickname.

It was also a day of damning testimony about Bowen.

A crime lab technician said tiny dots of blood on the flowered outfit she wore that day were "high velocity blood spatter," indicating she was in the room when Joey was shot, not outside as she had told investigators.

Adams said the day after the shootings, she spoke of missing her soulmate Carr, not her son.

A jail inmate testified that Bowen told her about getting into a dispute with Carr that morning because he planned to leave town without her. The inmate said Bowen told her that when Carr pointed the gun toward Joey, she said, "Damn the baby."

A detective said Bowen told her in the wake of the shooting that day that she believed Joey had been shot on purpose.

And witnesses from Sturgis, S.D., said Bowen tried to help Carr escape arrest there several years ago. Bowen was a clerk at a convenience store when she thought customer Shirley Salway was vandalizing Carr's Harley Davidson motorcycle parked outside. When the argument turned physical, Carr hit one of the men who was with Salway and "knocked him out," Salway testified. But when Salway tried to use the pay phone to call for help, Bowen kept hanging up the phone, she said.

Sturgis police said Bowen later told them she didn't know the man who did it, though after Carr was identified by witnesses and arrested, Bowen was listed as his next of kin. He jumped bail and the couple was on the run, according to prosecutors.

Carr's former girlfriend and mother of his two children recalled that in 1996, Carr and Bowen used Bowen's ex-husband's Social Security card and birth certificate to get Carr a state ID card bearing Carr's picture. The name that appeared on the card, Joseph Bennett, was the same one Bowen gave to Tampa police last year to identify Carr in the aftermath of her son's death.

The prosecution is expected to rest today. Bowen's attorney, John Kromholz, has said his only witness, if any, would be Bowen.

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