Saturday, April 17, 2010

    A former UFC martial artist pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an incident where he crashed his pickup truck into the Fallsview Casino.

Harold Howard has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison after pleading guilty to a number of charges that included attacking two family members with a hammer and crashing his pickup truck through the front doors of Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort.

Howard appeared Friday in Ontario Court of Justice in St. Catharines where he pled guilty to half a dozen charges that included aggravated assault, assault causing bodily harm, dangerous driving, failing to remain at the scene of an accident, mischief and breach of a court order.

Howard did not have a lawyer, but made it clear to Judge David Harris he understood the charges and wanted to proceed without a lawyer. A legal aid lawyer would have been appointed if he had requested one.

The accused, who was kept in handcuffs in the prisoner’s box during the proceeding, said he understood his options, but wanted to have his case heard Friday.

Howard was originally charged with 25 counts that included two counts of attempted murder, but most were either reduced or withdrawn.

Assistant Crown attorney Tim Hill told court Howard was involved in a number of incidents on Dec. 22.

Hill said Howard had been staying at his sister’s home on Muir Ave. His nephew was getting milk out of the refrigerator when Howard suddenly attacked him with a hammer, striking him five or six times with the claw end of the weapon. The nephew required 21 stitches to close the gash on his head and six stitches to close a wound on his hand.

Howard’s sister entered the room after her son screamed and she was struck with the hammer and fell to the ground. She suffered a broken finger, a gash to the right eye and cuts. She required four stitches.

The nephew struck Howard with a chair, which ended the attack. Howard then drove to a house on Carmen St., where his estranged spouse and son lived, and struck her vehicle that was parked in the driveway, causing about $3,000 damage. He then approached the front door and tried to gain entry and yelled: “You ruined my life.”

Police were called and located Howard driving his pickup truck, but he failed to stop. A pursuit followed reaching speeds of 110 km/h in a 50 km/h zone.

When Howard approached Niagara Fallsview Casino and Resort, he crashed his pickup truck through the glass front doors and it glanced off the fountain in the lobby, coming to rest against a pole.

Howard’s sister and nephew read from their victim impact statements.

His sister told court she “lives in a state of constant fear” and has difficulty falling asleep.

“My life has been torture,” she said.

Howard’s estranged wife and son also submitted victim impact statements, but they were not read in court.

The Crown asked the judge to consider a jail sentence of an additional 56 months, on top of the 117 days of pretrial custody served since his arrest.

Howard told the judge “these actions are not my normal behaviour.”

He also wanted to know if someone could retrieve some belongings and tools from his former residences.

The judge told Howard these were “very serious offences which had significant impact on people close to you.” He then added these individuals once held Howard in high esteem and felt let down.

Howard is prohibited from owning any weapons or firearms for life. He was also ordered to supply police with his DNA.

Howard asked the judge if his sentence could be served in a facility out west because he no longer had a future in the Niagara region.

Howard is well-known in the world of mixed-martial arts, where he competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

His first professional fight was UFC 3: The American Dream, on Sept. 9, 1994, when he scored a knock-out win over opponent Roland Payne in just 46 seconds.

His professional career came to an early end because of injuries.

Later, he was further injured when he was struck by a car while standing in an outdoor line in Toronto.

He was inducted to the Niagara Falls Sports Wall of Fame in 1990. He captured a Canadian heavyweight championship in 1982, 1983 and 1984. Howard was the world heavyweight jiu jitsu champion in 1983 and 1985 and was a member of the Canadian National Team in 1986 and 1987.

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