Former CR teacher, coach Howell sentenced to 7 years, 3 months

DOVER — Former Caesar Rodney High teacher and state champion wrestling coach Richard L. “Dickie” Howell Jr. was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison Thursday morning for an admitted sexual relationship with a student in 2014.

After Kent County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clark issued his decision at the end of a nearly one hour hearing, the prosecution described the sentence as “appropriate,” and Howell’s attorney said his client thought the sentence was fair.

“Considering the quantity and quality of the evidence, this was the best result,” said attorney Alex Funk, who represented Howell.

Richard L. "Dickie" Howell Jr.

Richard L. “Dickie” Howell Jr.

Describing the victim as a “very strong young lady,” prosecuting Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Dickerson said “we’re satisfied with the court’s sentencing.”

In response to Mr. Funk’s mention that other Delaware educators convicted of sexual crimes with students received far lighter sentences than the six-year mandatory minimum prison stay or far more Howell faced, Judge Clark said none of the other cases involved the high number of offenses that Howell’s did.

The judge pointed to the length of a roughly 10-month affair as factoring into his decision along with the “very significant” harm caused to the victim due to the illegal relationship between teacher and student conducted at his Wyoming home and at Caesar Rodney High.

In late February, Howell pleaded guilty to three counts each of felony fourth-degree rape and first-degree sexual abuse of a child by a person in a position of trust, authority or supervision.

Upon release, Howell will be on Level III probation and Judge Clark ordered him registered as a Tier III sex offender. He is to pay restitution and have no contact with anyone younger than 18.

Howell was credited three extra days from his Feb. 26 effective sentencing date. He can reduce the stay in prison with good time served.

Howell is one of the most successful coaches in Delaware history. Caesar Rodney won the state title under Howell eight times, most recently in 2012, and he won his 300th career dual meet victory two years ago.

The victim’s voice

In an impact statement before sentencing, the victim described the post traumatic stress disorder she now experiences, and was accompanied by a service dog who helps her “function every day.”

“I now have a mental disability that will affect me for the rest of my life,” she said,

The victim, now attending college out of state, said she was vilified on social media and elsewhere by adults and children after Howell’s arrest, and was “driven out” of her high school, the CR district and eventually Delaware.

“I have only one friend left in Delaware,” she said, while also describing her fear of going into the public because she might be recognized.

Comparing her plight to an 8½-hour surgery she experienced, the victim said she would rather go through that “a million and a half times” than experience the suffering endured in the aftermath of Howell’s arrest.

The victim described her opportunity to speak to the court as “liberating” because “my voice can finally be heard.”

Howell “said himself that I’m the strongest person he’d ever met, well he took that away,” said the victim, who mentioned flashbacks she experiences during the day and nightmares when attempting to sleep.

Speaking to Judge Clark, the district attorney general said some educators had tried to blame the victim while supporting Howell after the arrest.

Entrusted with the responsibility of educating and protecting his students, Ms. Dickerson said Howell instead “used her in one of the most baseless ways possible — for his sexual gratification.”

Ms. Dickerson read aloud lurid text messages between the then 50-year-old Howell and 17-year-old student, In one text, Howell thanked the victim for the “best present ever” after a sexual encounter on Christmas night while his kids were away from home, the prosecution recounted in court.

How it began

While acknowledging that the student victim began the affair by telling Howell “she liked him more that just a teacher,” according to Ms. Dickerson, the adult was responsible for not crossing any line of unprofessional conduct. Initial texting between the two became flirtatious, Ms. Dickerson said.

The teacher and student exchanged inappropriate photos of each other via text, Ms. Dickerson said, and Howell sent video of himself performing a sexual act and following up by addressing the student as “baby” and indicating he deserved a visual response.

Ms. Dickerson described the victim as losing her virginity in the living room of her teacher’s house.

“He knew right from wrong and he chose to cross the line day after day,” she said.

Also, Ms. Dickerson said the victim “lost out” on some “major events of childhood.”

Ms. Dickerson said the acts were not a momentary slip of judgment but “a pattern of criminal behavior.

“It wasn’t one day, it was weeks that led into months.”

Ms. Dickerson referenced an incident in 2013 when Howell was reprimanded for pulling the ponytail of one student and touching two on the forehead to check their sweat level. In 2012, she said, Howell contacted a student on a Christian Mingle website, first questioning her age to be there and then asked her how she was doing.

Howell, wearing an orange Department of Correction outfit with black letters, appeared to choke back tears at one point, while putting his hand on his forehead and later dropping his head while shaking it slightly.

Reading from a hand-written note, Howell agreed with both the defense and prosecution’s assertions and expressed remorse to the victim, her family and anyone else affected by what he’d done.

“I lost my job, house, kids, freedom and was shamed in the media,” he said.

Howell maintained, “I did essentially turn myself in,” unlike other cases, and ended the relationship while risking the chance of arrest.

“I do take responsibility for this, I have paid and will continue to pay for the rest of my life,” he said.

While pledging full accountability for his actions, Howell said he hoped the victim would be able to achieve her dream of graduating from college. He described himself as previously a good teacher and coach who mentored thousands of boys and devoted himself to helping them succeed on the wrestling mats and in life.

“I know I can be productive again,” he said.

Future plans

Hoping to some day continue helping people by perhaps working with the elderly or as a physical trainer, Howell said he longs to hug his mother again and watch his sons graduate from college and medical school.

Mr. Funk pointed to Howell’s otherwise clean criminal record, and psychological examinations that determined he was not a sexual predator or pedophile, and no risk to re-offend.

Howell began working in the district on Aug. 28, 1991, and the school board accepted his resignation on April 9, 2015.

Also, Howell’s background of being a mentor and teacher to thousands of students and athletes were a great part of the “99 percent” of his life where he did good, according to Mr. Funk, who also read snippets from a small sampling of the dozens of character letters written in his behalf.

“He’s a good man, he’s a tragic man, he’s a flawed man but he’s good man,” said Mr. Funk, who also described Howell as a “broken man who self destructed” and is now just a hollow piece of what he was before.

Describing life in prison, Mr. Funk said Howell is in lockdown nearly all the time except for 45 minutes in a facility exercise cage three times a week. The attorney expressed belief that Howell is receiving substantial, meaningful punishment and “he describes it as hard on him.”

Howell is given 30 seconds to shower, Mr. Funk said, and washes his clothes in a sink with no detergent. He once used a cellophane wrapper from a food tray to stave off infection after a foot injury. Howell received two each of the four shirts and pants allotted by the Department of Correction, according to his attorney.

Howell eats his breakfast at 5 a.m. after a tray is delivered through his cell door, which follows guard checks at 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m.; he has no way of keeping time due to his solitary confinement, Mr. Funk said.

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