An Indiana man who told Santa Monica officers he was headed to a gay pride event in Los Angeles after he was found heavily armed was charged Wednesday in Indiana with child molestation – allegations that apparently spurred his cross-country journey to California, a prosecutor said.
James Wesley Howell, 20, faces one count of child molesting in southern Indiana’s Clark County. If convicted, the Jeffersonville, Indiana, man could face up to 16 years in prison.
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull told The Associated Press that Howell took a 12-year-old girl to a state forestry property May 31 and had sex with her.
The girl’s mother reported the allegations to police June 2 after learning about them.
CBS affiliate WTTV reports that according to court documents, Howell was friends with the 12-year-old girl’s brother. The brother’s girlfriend told authorities she confronted Howell about the incident. She reported Howell told her he was a “sociopath with an automatic” and he would take out anybody, including the cops, if they tried to come to his house and arrest him, stated court papers.
A message seeking comment was left Wednesday for Howell family lawyer Bobby Boyd of Louisville, Kentucky. Telephone calls to Pamela Jones, Howell’s public defender in the California weapons case, rang unanswered.
Mull said Howell was interviewed on June 7 by a police detective in the molestation case and apparently left Indiana at some point after speaking to the officer.
He said it’s a “logical conclusion to draw” that Howell traveled to California to flee the child molestation investigation. But he said he doesn’t know what Howell’s intentions were in California.
“He did flee and go to California, where he was apprehended on June 12. So there was a very short window of time between the time he became aware he was under investigation here and when he ended up in California,” Mull said.
He said he intends to have Howell extradited to Indiana to face the molestation charge.
California authorities charged Howell on Tuesday with three felony weapons and ammunition charges after he was found in Santa Monica with a loaded assault rifle with magazines rigged to allow 60 shots to be fired in quick succession, plus 15 pounds of chemicals mixed and ready to explode.
Howell has pleaded not guilty to those charges. A Los Angeles County judge set Howell’s bail at $2 million.
He was arrested in Santa Monica early Sunday, hours after an attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida left 49 people dead.
Howell told police he was headed to a gay pride event in West Hollywood that attracts hundreds of thousands of people. It’s unclear whether he intended any violence at the LA Pride event, but his arrest put police and event organizers on heightened alert.
Friends in Indiana described Howell as a gun enthusiast with a short temper. In October, he was twice accused of pulling a gun and making threats, once against a boyfriend and once against a neighbor.
Howell was convicted in April of misdemeanor intimidation for the incident with his neighbor. Under the terms of his probation, he was not allowed to have weapons or leave Indiana.
Court documents in the Indiana molestation case state that the 12-year-old girl had “developed a crush on (Howell) and wanted to go to a car event with him.” Howell, the girl’s brother and the brother’s girlfriend were all members of the same “car club” and periodically attended meetings where people show off their cars, documents say.
The girl’s mother gave Howell permission to attend the car event and afterward, Howell offered to take the girl to the home of a family friend she considered her grandmother, court documents say.
According to the affidavit, he first took the girl to the state forestry property before taking her to the family friend’s house.
Federal agents searched Howell’s Jeffersonville home on Monday but declined to release any details.