An Annapolis man who prosecutors said strangled the mother of his three daughters because she rejected him and who then pawned the dead woman's rings for drugs pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree murder in an arrangement that gave him 30 years in prison.
As two families wept on opposite sides of an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court room, Howard Alexander Jr., 34, said through sobs, "I turned myself in because I was sorry from the minute I'd done it," and asked for forgiveness.
Prosecutors described Alexander as a violent man who had choked two other women - a wife and a girlfriend, neither fatally - before Sept. 7, when he killed Paula Lynn Edwards, his high school sweetheart, with whom he had had an on-and-off relationship for more than 15 years.
"This is domestic violence," Assistant State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said after the hearing, noting that the victim recently had started a new relationship. "This was about control."
She told Judge Philip T. Caroom that Alexander was asked to move from the home of an Annapolis woman and "was essentially at the end" when he accused Edwards, a bus driver, of not letting him see his children, although he had seen one of them two days earlier.
According to his statement to police, he attacked Edwards after she removed rings he had given her and said she didn't want to see him any more.
"I choked Paula until she stopped moving," he said in a statement to police. "When Paula stopped moving I realized what I had done. I stayed there for about 30 to 40 minutes to see if she moved. I kissed Paula on the forehead and then picked her body up."
He then dumped her body in a water-filled container on his grandmother's nearly abandoned property, where the killing took place, according to his statement. That afternoon, he went to Eastport and took his son by another woman to McDonald's.
"He took [Paula Edwards'] rings and he pawned them for $15 and he went and smoked crack with it," Leitess said at yesterday's hearing.
Leitess said Alexander initially denied knowing anything about Paula Edwards' disappearance but on Sept. 10 led police to the body.
The murder left the victim's mother, retired elementary school teacher Betty J. Edwards, 65, to care for the three children, ages 2, 5 and 15.
"There has not been time for me to grieve because I have to be strong for these girls," she wrote in a letter to the judge. "I can lie in my bed at night hearing cries from the other room because they miss their mom."
Edwards said before the hearing that the oldest girl, Monica, does not often express her sorrow, but that Micayla, 5, sometimes cries in kindergarten and tells people that her father killed her mother.
"It was during last week's rain, she said, 'Grandma, Mommy's getting all wet,'" Edwards said before yesterday's hearing.
Mia, the youngest child, will not remember her mother's touch, Edwards said, and when she wonders when her mother is coming home, is reminded by Micayla of the slaying. Edwards said friends, family and neighbors pitch in to help.
Defense lawyer Lois Reynolds Coon said Alexander has a history of mental illness as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
At Coon's urging, Caroom recommended that officials consider Alexander for treatment at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, which is geared to address mental health issues of criminals.
His sister, Sharon Alexander, said after the court hearing: "My brother is not a monster. He made a terrible mistake." She said her family is mourning Paula Edwards as well. "We've lost a sister as well as a brother."
She said she keeps Alexander's poetry and cards for his children, although the defendant said in court that "if they never read them, I'll understand."