BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Wendy Howard seethed after learning her ex-boyfriend sexually abused their teen daughter, a prosecutor said.
The ex, Kelly Rees Pitts, had previously been investigated for allegedly molesting another of her daughters but charges weren’t brought. As before, she and her daughters gave statements to authorities.
An investigation began June 2, 2019. Pitts remained free as detectives started building a case against him. They told Howard to be patient.
But three days later, Howard took matters into her own hands, prosecutor Eric Smith said.
Howard fired three shots into Pitts, two in quick succession followed by a third 15 seconds later, Smith said Tuesday during his opening statement at Howard’s murder trial.
“At no time was he facing (Howard) when he was shot,” Smith told the jury.
Howard’s defense attorney, Tony Lidgett, named multiple women whom Pitts allegedly sexually or physically abused. They included two of Howard’s daughters, a 17-year-old he forcibly kissed and tried to grope at a party and another ex-girlfriend.
He said Pitts had raped Howard and beaten her with a baseball bat in the past. He got a certain look on his face when he was about to get violent — and he gave Howard that look the day of the fatal confrontation.
Howard fired in self-defense, Lidgett said, adding he disputes Smith’s assertion she shot him from behind. He said she still had bullets in the gun but stopped firing once Howard no longer posed a threat.
Judge Charles R. Brehmer is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last about four weeks. The trial will resume Wednesday morning, and on Thursday morning jurors will visit the scene of the shooting outside Howard’s house on Appaloosa Court in Tehachapi.
Howard, whose case has received significant attention in the community and spawned a group seeking to have the matter dismissed, told police she shot Pitts, 57, during an argument in which she confronted him about his alleged molestation of her teenage daughter. She said Pitts tried to run her over in an ATV when she fired, according to court documents.
She told police she pulled a gun from her waistband and shot him. Pitts suffered gunshot wounds to his upper chest and neck and a bullet graze to his cheek. He was taken to Kern Medical, where he was pronounced dead.
Much of the case will focus on the position of Pitts’ ATV and of Pitts and Howard when the shooting occurred, Smith said. Was the ATV rolling forward or stopped? Did Pitts face her or was her turned away?
Smith does not deny Pitts molested Bayley Frost, Howard’s then-16-year-old daughter, who spoke about the abuse in 2019. He displayed a photograph of a clothed Frost with a hand reaching from outside the frame and touching her breast. The hand belongs to Pitts, Smith said.
If convicted, Howard faces up to 50 years to life in prison. She is out of custody after posting $500,000 bond.