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Prosecutor Says Afoa Murder Suspect Followed 'Death Before Dishonor' Street Code

Defense attorney Darryl Stallworth insists Daniel Howard, 32, was at home taking care of his mother at the time 17-year-old Justice Afoa was stabbed in December 2010.

Daniel Howard, 32, is one of three individuals suspected of killing 17-year-old Newark teen Justice Afoa on Dec. 15, 2010.
Daniel Howard, 32, is one of three individuals suspected of killing 17-year-old Newark teen Justice Afoa on Dec. 15, 2010.
Arguments in the trial of one of three suspects in the 2010 murder of Newark teen Justice Afoa came to a close Wednesday afternoon as both prosecutors and defense pleaded with jurors to err on the side of reason. 

Daniel Howard, 32, of Fremont, faces a number of charges including murder for the benefit of a street gang and conspiring to commit murder in connection to the 17-year-old football player’s death.

Howard, who was arrested Dec. 10, 2012, is also charged with attempting to kill his own pregnant girlfriend, kidnapping her and making terrorist threats in November 2012. He is being tried for both cases. 

In his closing arguments Wednesday, deputy district attorney Elgin Lowe referred to cell phone records to show that Howard conspired for months with Rafael Tovar, 32, and Tovar’s half-sister Daniela Guzman, 19, to plan and carry out the brutal murder of Afoa on Dec. 15, 2010. Cell tower signals place Howard and Tovar at the scene of the crime, Lowe said, and he believes that Howard and Tovar stabbed Justice to death in the middle of the street in broad daylight near Cedar Boulevard and Birch Street shortly before 4 p.m. — a crime Howard’s girlfriend said during her testimony that Howard admitted to her, according to Lowe. 

According to Lowe, Afoa’s death stemmed from a fight at a house party on Sept. 11, 2010 in which Afoa beat up Tovar, sending him to the hospital. 

Shamed by a high school student, the trio began discussing retaliation that night with Howard, who has “Bay Area Warrior” tattooed across his chest, stepping up to avenge his longtime friend, Lowe said. A warrior “fights, he kills, he destroys,” Lowe said. 

“You know the code. The code is death before dishonor,” Lowe told the jury. 

That same street code would come into play nearly two years later when Howard believed Tovar impregnated his girlfriend. Upon the revelation, Howard tried to hang his girlfriend in an attempt to kill her and her unborn fetus in his backyard on Nov. 25, 2012. He also threatened to kill his girlfriend’s teenage son and Tovar. 

But defense attorney Darryl Stallworth argues that there is no direct evidence connecting Howard to Afoa’s murder, and that the prosecutor’s case is based on speculation and a fictionalized “drama.” 

Stallworth believes that another man who was spotted at the scene is responsible for the crime.  

Howard’s alibi is that he was at home taking care of his sick mother. Howard’s sister testified in court during the trial that he was home that day. And eyewitness descriptions of Afoa’s assailants also don’t exactly match Howard, Stallworth said. 

Two eyewitnesses said two skinny Hispanic males in their late 20s or 30s wearing hooded sweatshirts were seen attacking Afoa, who attempted to run from the men and shouted “I didn’t do anything” before being stabbed six times and slashed six times. 

Lowe said the fact that the men wore hoodies may have obscured witnesses’ view as Howard is a Caucasian male. Both he and Tovar, however, were 29 at the time. 

According to the court, another witness spotted a man in a gray t-shirt and shorts running in the area shortly after the crime occurred. That man, who Stallworth said should be on trial instead of Howard, was detained and questioned by officers the day of Afoa’s death but let go after his alibi checked out, Lowe said. 

Lowe said the circumstantial evidence against Howard is too great to ignore. 

“He’s either guilty, or the most unfortunate man in the United States,” Lowe said of Howard. 

According to Lowe, cell phone records show that Howard, Guzman and Tovar exchanged numerous text messages to coordinate attacks on Afoa. On several occasions, Guzman had texted Howard Afoa’s whereabouts and descriptions of what he Afoa was wearing, with Howard once showing up to an In-N-Out Burger in Fremont but not being able to locate Afoa. 

The most revealing records, Lowe said, came on the day of Afoa’s death. 

On Dec. 15, 201, cell phone data shows that Howard’s phone rang at about 3:20 p.m. in Fremont, and that his phone then traveled to Newark. Within 10 minutes of Afoa’s murder, Howard’s phone pinged a cell phone tower near the murder scene. By 3:58 p.m., Howard’s phone travelled back to his Fremont home. 

But Stallworth said that prosecutors can’t prove that Howard was using the phone, or what was said during the calls. Stallworth also said the text messages are unreliable as Guzman, one of the alleged conspirators of the murder, was a teenager at the time. 

“Its nothing but gossip,” Stallworth said. 

In regards to the attempted hanging of Howard’s girlfriend, records show that officers arrived to Howard’s house on the night of Nov. 25, 2012 to find the girlfriend in the backyard with her hands zip-tied and a noose around her neck with Howard standing behind her and continuing to wrap the rope around her.

According to Lowe, Howard ignored officers’ demands to let go of his girlfriend, pushed her and attempted to run away and fight officers. 

Stallworth said Lowe’s telling of the incident is embellished and that Howard only intended to interrogate his girlfriend to find out who the father of her unborn child was. 

“He never intended to carry out the threat,” Stallworth said. “He just wanted to scare her a little bit.” 

Stallworth argued that Howard, who was high on meth at the time, was going to release her when police arrived. The defense attorney referred to the girlfriend’s courtroom testimony in which she stated that she was not scared during the incident and that she did not attempt to struggle or cry for help. However, when Howard left to smoke a cigarette, that’s when she called 911. 

Lowe argued Howard’s act of tying a rope around his girlfriend’s neck had the consequence of death, and therefore should be considered an act of attempted murder, not only to her but her unborn child. 

The jury will weigh the evidence and testimonies to determine if Howard is guilty of the charges when continuing to deliberate Thursday.

The trials for Guzman and Tovar have not yet started. Guzman is scheduled to appear in court next on July 15, Tovar on July 18.
Arlene Hendren May 30, 2013 at 08:55 PM
holy crap, that is a scary picture he has not changed one damn bit. My cousin and I went to school with this man elementary all the way through high school he hung out with us a lot and Adam played football with him all the time at our Grandma's house. I always knew he was bad but damn didnt realize he was that bad!
Alicia Rodriguez May 31, 2013 at 05:59 AM
Scary what meth does to people. The whole Howard fam got issues, now sounds like sis lying to cover for her bro the 'angel' who was taking care of mom - right! Shameful, but he'll still prolly go away for the rest of his life
S T June 01, 2013 at 06:03 PM
Stallworth is disgusting. “He never intended to carry out the threat,” -- yeah, that's right, that's why he CARRIED OUT it.
JDN June 04, 2013 at 06:36 PM
I went to school with Danny back in junior high and high school, and he's always been a bad person with evil intentions. Even as a 14 year old, I remember him carrying around guns and knives- and even perpetually bullying the developmentally disabled kids in special ed. As much as I don't like to think this, some people are just born evil...

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