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RALEIGH, N.C. — Nearly a year after Sonny Lee Howard was arrested in Galax with his wife’s body in the back of his truck, the North Carolina man is still awaiting trial for first-degree murder.
Howard, 43, was stopped by Galax police in the city on May 23, 2012, after Wake County, N.C., authorities issued an alert that Howard was a suspect in the death of his wife, Sherry Lee Howard, 50.
According to a search warrant, Howard told the Galax officers that he had killed his wife.
In the months since his arrest, few details have been released about the case, which is now in the hands of Wake County authorities.
Wake County Sheriff’s Department Capt. James Stevens confirmed to The Gazette on Wednesday that a trial date has not been set. Howard remains in police custody, held without bond in the Wake County Jail.
Some light was shed on the incident when the Wake Sheriff’s Department made public a search warrant of Howard’s vehicle and his wife’s two homes in North Carolina.
According to the News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh, N.C., investigators searching the Ford F-250 pickup truck found a notebook open to a page with this message: “I love you much, I’m sorry.”
The newspaper said the warrant does not indicate whether Sonny Howard wrote the note.
A neighbor of the Howards in Wake County told a 911 dispatcher that she saw Sonny Howard covered in blood and with what appeared to be a dead body earlier on the day he was arrested in Galax.
Earlier in the day on May 23, 2012, police in Wake County had issued an alert saying Howard might be in the Galax area and warned that he could have blood on his clothing.
Raleigh, N.C., TV station WRAL reported that a neighbor called 911 the morning of May 23 to report a possible homicide. The neighbor told the police dispatcher that Sherry Howard had been “panicky” the previous night, according to WRAL.
A 911 caller also reported seeing a dead body in the Howards’ yard.
The neighbor had gone to the couple’s home and found Sherry Howard’s keys in the lock on the back door.
The neighbor told the dispatcher that she confronted Sonny Howard as she left the property. He had blood on his boots and pants, she said.
According to WRAL’s report on the 911 call, “the neighbors saw what appeared to be a body on the ground by Sonny Howard’s truck... The body was face-down and had what looked like dried blood on its head.”
“What is that, a dummy?” the caller said she asked Howard.
To that, Sonny Howard allegedly told the caller “No, I’ve been sawing a hog.”
Wake County deputies couldn’t find a body when they arrived at the Howards’ home and searched the area.
Investigators used Sonny Howard’s cellphone signal to track him to Galax, about 160 miles from his home.
Galax police arrested him after spotting his dark green truck traveling on East Stuart Drive. He surrendered without incident and was taken into custody, allegedly confessing to his wife’s killing.
The News & Observer reported that investigators have not disclosed a motive for the killing.
Sherry Howard’s body was found in the back of the truck and it was sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Roanoke for an autopsy.
Galax police searched Howard’s truck, as did investigators in Wake County, N.C.
“Along with the notebook, [Wake County] investigators found a set of keys covered with blood, four bottles of prescription drugs, an empty firearm holster and eight boxes of various ammunition,” said the News & Observer. “The prescription drugs included an acid reducer, a medicine to treat gout, pills for osteoarthritis and a cholesterol reducer.”
North Carolina investigators also searched two homes owned by Sherry Howard. The warrant says one house is where a neighbor reported hearing a “commotion” and seeing Sonny Howard loading a body into a dark-colored pickup truck before setting off on the morning of May 23, according to the News & Observer report.
In the house, investigators found several guns, a rifle and a driver’s license belonging to Sherry Lee Howard.
According to the News & Observer’s report on the search warrant, “the Howards’ son was at school during the incident and later indicated to a Wake County Sheriff’s investigator that his parents had ‘domestic-related issues,’ and had a dispute the night before Sonny Howard was arrested.”
In Galax, Howard is charged with being a fugitive from justice.