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Amid sobs, Bowen tells her side of story

A jury deliberates the fate of a woman accused of lying to protect the man who killed three officers and her son.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 28, 1999


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Bernice Bowen sobs after her attorney showed her graphic photos of her dead son during testimony. [Times photo: Tony Lopez]
TAMPA -- Testimony in the trial of Bernice Bowen ended in an emotional explosion Thursday when the woman accused of lying to protect her boyfriend stood before a judge and vowed to tell the truth.

Described by witnesses as a gun-toting cop-hater who swore to stand by her man, Bowen instead told the jury Thursday that she too was afraid of Hank Earl Carr, an ex-con who killed her son and three police officers last May.

Emotions reached a climax after sharp cross-examination that focused on the things Bowen said she could not remember about the violent day. In a dramatic moment, her lawyer grabbed crime scene photos of her son's brutally wounded face and thrust them before her, asking if that was why she did not remember.

Review the Times coverage of Hank Earl Carr's rampage
"I'm sorry, Bernice," attorney John Kromholz said as Bowen began to sob loudly and push herself away from the pictures. "But is that the real thing you were seeing that day?"

In the audience, widows, family and colleagues of the dead sat stonefaced as bailiffs helped Bowen from the courtroom, her wails echoing down the hall.

Soon, the jury of three women and three men began its deliberations.

At 5:30 p.m., after spectators had restlessly paced the hallway for 21/2 hours, Circuit Judge Dan Perry asked jurors if they wanted to continue into the evening. The jury, comprising a welder, a salesman, an insurance agent, a technician and two retirees, opted to go home. They will return at 9 a.m. today.

"It's been hard on everyone," said Tampa police Detective Henry Duran.

Bowen, a former topless dancer, is accused of deliberately lying to police who were investigating the death of her son, Joey, who had been shot by Carr with a semiautomatic rifle in the couple's garage apartment. Investigators say while she was being questioned, Bowen repeatedly gave Carr's name as Joseph Lee Bennett, her ex-husband, never telling them Carr kept a hidden handcuff key or was a felon who swore he would not go back to prison.

Investigators charge that Bowen kept lying to them even as Carr was slipping out of his handcuffs in the back of a police car, grabbing an officer's gun and killing veteran homicide detectives Randy Bell and Ricky Childers. They say she lied even when an officer got on her knees and begged her to help identify the gunman, and kept lying for Carr after he shot rookie Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James "Brad" Crooks.

Before day's end, Carr holed up in a gas station and killed himself.

Thursday's closing arguments were short but dramatic.

Kromholz said the arsenal of weapons found in the couple's bullet-ridden apartment during the investigation into Joey's death, as well as Carr's attempts to run away from police earlier that day, should have been hints that all was not right.

But prosecutor Shirley Williams said the two detectives believed they were dealing with a distraught father, not a dangerous fugitive. She described witness accounts of Bowen vowing to stand by her man when the law came for him, and said Bowen was able to turn her emotions on and off for investigators at will.

"All she had to do to prevent these terrible tragedies was tell the truth," Williams said.

But Kromholz asked the jury to imagine the mindset of a mother who had just lost her child.

"You think about how she was a victim on that day too," he said. "You think about what she saw ... and her ability to function."

Bowen said she identified Carr by her ex-husband's name "because I was afraid."

"My baby had just been killed," she said.

She said that in the past, Carr had choked and kicked her.

"The whole day he was alive," Bowen said, "I didn't know if he was going to come for me or my daughter," a reference to Kayla Bennett, then 5.

Bowen told investigators that she was outside when Carr shot Joey inside their apartment, but analysts testified that high-velocity blood spatter on the flowered dress she wore proved she was in the room. A neighbor confirmed that account.

On the witness stand, Bowen first said that she wasn't there when Joey was killed, then that she didn't recall if she was there.

"You can't recall whether you saw your son shot in front of you?" the prosecutor asked, sounding incredulous.

"No ma'am, I don't recall," Bowen said.

In cross-examination, Bowen admitted she never went to her son as his bleeding body lay crumpled on the carpet, that she never touched him or tried to help him after he had been shot. Finally, Carr loaded Joey's body into the back seat of their car and the couple took off, Williams said.

The prosecutor pointed out that despite Bowen's testimony that she wasn't "thinking clearly" that day and did not recall certain events, Bowen had the presence of mind to identify Carr as Bennett.

The prosecutor asked why, in an interview that night long after Carr shot himself, Bowen denied he had ever abused her. "You were not afraid of a dead man, were you?" she asked.

Earlier in the week, witnesses testified that the gun-loving couple was fully prepared for the day the law finally caught up with Carr, and that Bowen had vowed to stand by her man and go out "in a blaze of glory." Investigators also found a chilling assortment of items in their home: a bulletproof vest, a SWAT-type helmet, rifles, gun parts, ammunition and magazines describing how to change a person's identity.

But Kromholz told the jury that once police told Bowen that two detectives had been slain, any agreement she had with Carr was history. He said she soon began to cooperate and gave them Carr's real name as well as his mother's address.

Prosecutors disagreed with Kromholz's definition of cooperation, saying Bowen was "buying him time" when she gave them assorted names that included Carr.

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