BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Kelly Rees Pitts molested girls and administered brutal beatings to ex-girlfriend Wendy Howard.
Nevertheless, he was entitled to the same rights under the law as any other person, prosecutor Eric Smith said Wednesday.
He said Pitts should be in prison.
“He should not be dead,” Smith said during his closing argument in Howard’s murder trial. “He should not be buried 6 feet under.”
Believing Tehachapi police wouldn’t be able to obtain enough information to convict Pitts for molesting her teen daughter, Howard decided to handle matters herself and fatally shot Pitts during a confrontation outside her Tehachapi home June 5, 2019, Smith said. He asked the jury to find her guilty of Pitts’ homicide.
Howard, 53, delivered vigilante justice, Smith said. He said Pitts, 57, “absolutely” was a child molester and abuser, but Howard didn’t have the right to take his life.
“That’s not something that’s acceptable, to do it on your own,” the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Tony Lidgett argued Pitts was a “madman, animal, monster” who victimized children and treated women like they were objects he could do with as he pleased. It may not be politically correct to say it, Lidgett said, but some people deserve to die.
The jury began deliberating after closing arguments ended about 1:45 p.m. and will return Thursday morning, the 11th day of trial, to continue deliberations.
Howard faces up to 50 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, but Smith has acknowledged the lesser included charges of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter would be appropriate given she was provoked by Pitts’ remarks during the confrontation. The jury can also consider involuntary manslaughter.
Lidgett showed jurors photos of Bayley Frost, the daughter of Howard and Pitts, at the age when Pitts molested her. He displayed photos of Miranda Frost, Howard’s eldest daughter, whom Pitts molested years ago. That molestation was reported but charges never filed due to insufficient evidence.
Lidgett said he’s “baffled” why first- and-second-degree murder charges were filed.
When they dated in the early 2000s, Pitts beat Howard with a baseball bat while she was pregnant, choked her and attempted to rape her, Lidgett said. She knew what he was capable of when she confronted him before the shooting.
He argued his client intended to defend herself, not kill. She had other rounds left in the gun and could have kept firing but didn’t. Instead, she stopped firing when Pitts no longer was a threat, Lidgett said.
“We have no idea in what order anything occurred,” Lidgett said. All that’s known, he said, is Howard pulled the gun as she backed away from Pitts because “she’s scared.” The threat was real to her.
“All Wendy talked about in this case was the fear she had of him,” Lidgett said.
The question, he said, is did she have a right to self-defense or not? Has the prosecution proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt?
Howard’s state of mind
Messages Howard shared with others revealed her thoughts and feelings in the days leading up to the shooting, Smith said. She wrote about “anger” and “vengeance” in one message. In another, shared the day of the shooting with another molestation victim of Pitts, Howard wrote, “I’m struggling with doing the right thing and the right thing for me.”
Pitts was dead within 30 minutes of her sending the message, Smith said.
He lived down the street and had called Howard to ask if he could drop off a grandson to play with Howard’s children. She said that was OK.
Then she grabbed a gun and placed it in her back waistband while waiting for Pitts to arrive.
“She was mad,” Smith said. “She was angry. She wanted to confront.”
Howard further showed her mindset with what she told Pitts before and after she shot him, Smith said. She called him a child molester and said he deserved to die.
“That is not the mindset of self-defense, that is the mindset of murder,” he said.
During her testimony and interviews with police, Howard said she fired because Pitts drove his ATV toward her and she believed he was going to run her over. Howard and other witnesses said the vehicle lurched forward once. It traveled about 1 foot, Smith said, at a speed estimated between 1 to 3 mph. That’s practically crawling, the prosecutor said.
“She’s claiming self-defense, killing of a human being, because an ATV lurched forward one time,” Smith said.
It’s not self-defense if you initiate a confrontation with the intent to create an excuse to use force, he said.
Lidgett asked the jurors — all of whom are parents — to consider the love a parent has for their child, and how they will do anything to protect that child. He told them they can consider not only the physical abuse Pitts previously inflicted on Howard and his actions during the confrontation in deciding whether she acted in self-defense, but also the sexual abuse he perpetrated on her daughters.
Pitts ruined the lives of Howard’s daughters and other girls he molested, Lidgett said. Miranda Frost is still “messed up” from what she endured, he said, and another woman, who spent only a minute alone with Pitts when she was 17, no longer trusts men.
That woman testified she believed Pitts was about to rape her but another person entered the room, giving her the opportunity to escape.
When Pitts came toward Howard on June 5, 2019, she feared not only for herself but for her children, the attorney said. She took action to defend not only herself, but them.
“When you have a child there is nothing you would not do for them,” Lidgett said.