A Broward judge sentenced a Miramar man to life in prison Wednesday after accepting his second-degree murder plea in the 2007 strangling death of his girlfriend.
Vernon Howard, 42, left the body of 34-year-old Linda Renee Innocent to rot in the trunk of her car in a Miami International Airport parking lot in July 2007, according to authorities. He had faced a first-degree murder charge but entered a plea.
Broward Judge Martin Bidwill said he considered numerous factors before issuing his sentence, and placed significant weight on the manner in which Howard killed Innocent by strangling her. The judge said he concluded that Howard committed "an extremely cruel act" and killed his victim in "an extremely cruel way."
Bidwill described Howard as "a multiple-time convicted felon who killed a mother of four young children in a jealous rage in a cruel manner, all the while he’s on felony supervision after being recently released from federal prison." He also noted that Howard entered a plea, suffers from mental illness, and has an upstanding family who loves him.
“I’ve considered all of that, and at the end I’ve determined that the need to punish the gravity of the crime, and the need to provide justice for the gravity of the crime, and the need to incapacitate an individual who has repeatedly violated the felony laws of our society and has now killed in a particularly cruel way justifies the maximum penalty," Bidwill said.
He thus gave Howard a life sentence.
The judge also ordered Howard to pay mandatory court costs, and restitution of $36,400.
According to the Broward Sheriff's Office, Innocent, who worked as a hospice nurse, got into an argument with Howard over the phone the night of July 15, 2007.
Innocent drove to Howard's home where the two continued to argue until Howard killed Innocent in a fit of jealous rage, the BSO said.
Howard put her body in the trunk of her car, drove to the airport and parked the car in a garage and left, authorities said.
Her body wasn't discovered until the morning of July 24, when an airport worker noticed a foul odor from the car and called police.
Howard later confessed to strangling Innocent, the BSO said.
He has 30 days to appeal Bidwill's sentence.