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Daughter may testify against Bowen in neglect case


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 29, 1999

TAMPA -- A jury may have delivered a verdict Friday, but the courtroom drama isn't over for Bernice Bowen. And the next case could bring her own 6-year-old daughter back to Tampa to testify against her.

Convicted of being an accessory after the fact in a bloody rampage, Bowen now faces charges she neglected her two children by exposing them to Hank Earl Carr, her violent live-in boyfriend.

In the killing that started it all last year, Bowen's son Joey, 4, was shot in the face by Carr with a high-powered assault rifle. Her daughter, Kayla, now 6, was in the room and became a witness to the gruesome death of the little brother she called Bubba Dude.

The girl, who now lives with a relative in Ohio, may become a subject of pretrial dispute. Kayla told authorities her mother was in the room when Joey was shot, though Bowen initially said she was outside and later testified she didn't recall if she was there.

Kayla also knows firsthand about living with Carr, who always had a loaded gun in his waistband. She knows about living in a bullet-riddled garage apartment where semiautomatic weapons were commonplace.

That makes her a potentially important witness in the neglect case against her mother. The state is seeking to bring her down from Ohio. Prosecutor Michael Sinacore said he would prefer to have her testify via closed circuit TV or on prerecorded videotape outside of her mother's presence "because I don't want to traumatize (Kayla) any more than I have to."

Allowing someone to testify that way, however, can make a case vulnerable to appeal because of a defendant's right to confront an accuser.

The state must prove it would cause the child at least moderate emotional harm if Kayla took the stand in front of her mother.

The issue, however, may be moot. Bowen's attorney, John Kromholz, said his client is willing to take responsibility in the neglect case, but no plea offer has been made.

If Bowen were to plead guilty to the judge without a plea deal, her attorney could argue that she should get some consideration in sentencing for not forcing the issue of whether the child would have to testify.

Kromholz asked for a "cooling off period." A pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday before Circuit Judge Dan Perry. If convicted in that case, Bowen could face 51/2 to 17 years in prison.

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