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Bowen enters final guilty plea

Bernice Bowen admits her neglect led to the death of her son, Joey, shot last year by Hank Earl Carr.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 1999


TAMPA -- The courtroom stalemate that would have meant one more trial for Bernice Bowen ended Thursday when she quietly pleaded guilty to the last remaining child neglect charge against her.

Bowen, convicted of helping her boyfriend during his bloody rampage across three counties, also faced charges that she failed to protect her two young children from him.

Last week, a jury found her guilty of being an accessory after the fact when Hank Earl Carr shot and killed her 4-year-old son, Joey Bennett, then escaped during the investigation that followed.

Jurors said she was guilty of helping him after he gunned down veteran police detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell and Highway Patrol trooper James "Brad" Crooks, before killing himself.

Carr, Bowen, Bowen's daughter, Kayla Bennett, then 5, and Joey lived together in a tiny garage apartment where dozens of bullet holes riddled the walls and guns and ammunition were commonplace.

Had the neglect case gone to trial, a jury would have heard how Carr liked to quick-draw his loaded gun cowboy-style and point it at Joey. They would have heard testimony that Carr continued to live there even after Bowen promised authorities she would keep him away from her children.

But instead of another trial, Bowen pleaded guilty Tuesday to neglecting Kayla, now 6 and living with a great-aunt in Ohio. A similar but more serious count regarding Joey was the sticking point.

Bowen refused to plead guilty to a charge that said her neglect caused Joey's death, asking instead for the charge to be reduced. The state declined.

What happened Thursday involved a legal technicality and wasn't exactly a plea deal, but both sides said they were satisfied with the result.

Prosecutor Michael Sinacore did not reduce the charge, but agreed not to include Joey's death in calculating how many years in prison Bowen will face under state sentencing guidelines.

"We think it's a fair resolution because it makes her accountable for the crime she committed . . . her part in Joey's death," Sinacore said. "It does not punish her to the same extent as if she had pulled the trigger. We understand that Hank Earl Carr did things that were beyond Miss Bowen's control."

As a practical matter, it shaves time off Bowen's potential prison sentence. Before Thursday's resolution, she faced 17 to 29 years on all charges. Now, she faces 13 to 211/2 years.

"Our argument was (Joey's) death was an independent act of Hank Earl Carr," her attorney John Kromholz said. He agreed that Thursday's plea was a fair resolution.

"She regrets completely that she exposed her children to that," he said.

Now, all that is left is her sentencing before Circuit Judge Dan Perry on July 6.

In the face of trial testimony that Bowen deliberately lied to protect Carr's identity as a violent, wanted felon and that she didn't tell police of a hidden handcuff key Carr used to escape, a psychologist is expected to testify that she lived under Carr's control.

He is expected to describe how she was mentally and physically abused as a child and later by Carr.

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