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Man acquitted in attempted rape of 98-year-old Rodgers Forge woman

Paul Earnest Howard Jr., the 50-year-old man wanted for assaulting a 98-year-old woman at her Rodgers Forge home Saturday, also tried to rape his victim, Baltimore County police said Tuesday.
Paul Earnest Howard Jr., the 50-year-old man wanted for assaulting a 98-year-old woman at her Rodgers Forge home Saturday, also tried to rape his victim, Baltimore County police said Tuesday. (Baltimore County police)

A Baltimore County jury found a man not guilty Monday of trying to rape a 98-year-old woman in her Rodgers Forge home last spring but convicted him of assault, burglary and other charges after a four-day trial.

Paul Earnest Howard Jr., 51, was accused of entering the woman's home last April by posing as a worker who could fix her roof. After several hours of deliberations, jurors convicted him of first-degree assault, first-degree burglary, theft and false imprisonment, according to the Baltimore County state's attorney's office.

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Howard was acquitted of attempted first- and second-degree murder, attempted first- and second-degree rape, and robbery.

Deputy Baltimore County State's Attorney John Cox said Monday evening that prosecutors "accept the verdict of the jury," but he declined to comment further. Sentencing will likely take place within the next month, but no date has been set, Cox said.

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In closing arguments Monday, defense attorney Gayle L. Robinson told jurors that she knew the case was "emotionally charged" because of the victim's age. But Robinson said prosecutors charged her client with offenses for which they didn't have evidence, "throwing in the kitchen sink and seeing what sticks."

The prosecution did not prove that Howard tried to rape or kill the woman, Robinson said.

Howard's defense team could not be reached Monday evening after jurors returned the verdict.

The victim — who took the witness stand last week — suffered a fractured hip in the attack, prosecutors said. In closing arguments Monday morning, Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Dever said that on an April afternoon last year, Howard went to the woman's house and told her he had done work for her neighbor and noticed problems with her roof.

Once Howard was inside, the woman gave him a small amount of cash and a $40 check, Dever said. When he left, she thought he was going to Home Depot to buy materials.

But according to the prosecution, Howard became agitated because he wanted more money and didn't know where he could cash the check. He later returned to the woman's house, taking cash and blank checks from her bedroom upstairs, Dever said. He became angry when she wanted him to leave and threw her to the ground, she said.

Howard ripped the woman's phone from the wall, but she used a medic alert bracelet to get help, prosecutors said.

When firefighters arrived that evening, the first thing the woman told them was that her attacker had tried to rape her, Dever said. The victim was on her living room floor, her pants around her ankles.

As she delivered her closing arguments, Dever displayed a photo of the victim after the attack. The woman stared straight into the camera, her lip swollen. Dever called her "remarkable."

"She not only survived [the attack], she fought like hell to stop it," Dever said.

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