It was a crime that shocked Tacoma — not known to flinch in the face of violence — for its brutality, randomness and the Everyman status of its victim.
Lawrence Howse was returning home on a Saturday night with plans to take his son out crabbing the next morning when two teens confronted him in the parking garage under his Tacoma condominium building.
They intended to rob him and then humiliate him by making him take off his pants.
One of the robbers shot Howse twice when he refused to disrobe, court records show. The 54-year-old father of two died on the concrete floor.
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On Friday, Jeremy William Bennett, 18, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for his role in Howse’s death. Bennett admitted being one of the bandits but not the one with the gun.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson, who said he didn’t have the words to describe the tragic nature of the crime, sentenced Bennett to 28 years, eight months in prison, the high end of the sentencing range.
“This was over what? A wallet and a cellphone? That’s it. A wallet and a cellphone,” Johnson said before handing down the sentence requested by deputy prosecutors John Sheeran and Bryce Nelson.
“How many lives were lost that night, including yours to some extent, over some cruel, stupid nonsense?”
Howse died the night of Aug. 31, 2013.
Investigators said he had just returned home to the Sky Terrace condominiums at 235 Broadway and pulled his car into the basement parking garage when he was confronted by Bennett and Andrew Boyd.
Boyd, 19, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and awaits trial.
Police believe the pair lurked outside the condo complex looking for someone to rob and sneaked into the secured garage after Howse pulled his car inside but before the garage door closed behind him.
After killing Howse, they took his wallet, cellphone, watch and car keys and ran away, remaining at large for nearly a month before police identified and arrested them.
Bennett, who had no previous criminal record, cooperated with police after his arrest, telling them Boyd shot Howse.
On Friday, he apologized to Howse’s family, who attended court to watch him be sentenced.
“I would just like to say sorry to the family for the part I played in this,” said Bennett, who turned 18 in jail while awaiting resolution of his case. “There was no reason for it.”
His attorney, Jack McNeish, said his client made a huge mistake “that’s going to follow him for the rest of his life.”
Before the sentence was announced, relatives of Howse described him as a law-abiding man who loved his friends and family, shared recipes with his neighbors and spent as much time as he could out on the water.
“He never did any harm to another person in his life,” said his son, Travis Howse, who said he had plans to go crabbing with his dad the day after he died.
Dave Howse told the judge his brother’s death was devastating to his family.
“Our family’s broken forever,” he said. “I could never have believed someone could be so cold and cruel.”