Judge ponders request to wrap all charges together in homicide trial

Louis Bryan Alvarez

Louis Bryan Alvarez

A judge has said he is “inclined” to deny prosecutors’ request to try Masiyah Howard together on unrelated robbery and murder counts rather than at separate trials.

The teenage Howard is charged in numerous crimes in Chambersburg, chiefly the slaying of 25-year-old Louis Bryan Alvarez, who was gunned down at his city home on Feb. 26, 2013.

Howard was charged with counts of murder, robbery and weapons offenses.

Alvarez, a Guatemalan native who worked in Trenton, was shot shortly after he was confronted by Howard at his residence on the 200 block of Fulton Street.

Alvarez and Howard, who lived around the corner on Emory Avenue, exchanged words until Alvarez slammed the door and Howard allegedly pulled a handgun and shot through the glass door, prosecutors have said.

Howard is also charged in separate robberies that happened weeks before Alvarez was killed, at a city deli on Feb. 11, and of another Latino man about a week prior.

Assistant Prosecutor Lewis Korngut argued in court papers and at a hearing last week that the robberies and murder should be married together and Howard should be tried at one trial rather than separate ones because the crimes are related and explain Howard’s motive for the murder.

Howard used the same 9 mm handgun to commit crimes within blocks of each other, weeks apart, all involving Latinos, prosecutors said.

Korngut said authorities believe Howard targeted Latinos because they did not put up much resistance and they would “just walk away.” Those circumstances, Korngut said, “join the crimes together.”

The motive in the murder, however, is in dispute, and it has been suggested that Alvarez was killed because of a debt over video games.

Howard’s attorney, Steven Lember, said prosecutors would have difficulty trying the cases separately and that’s why they’re trying to “glue” them together.

But he said if they had enough evidence to do that, they would have presented the robberies and murder cases together at the grand jury phase.

He said it’s telling that they didn’t and suggested that’s because the crimes have different motives.

Lember said the robberies were about money, not the targeting of minorities. The murder he said centers on a “transaction that went bad.”

For those reasons, Lember told Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier that having the cases tried together would be inappropriate and could cause more legal headaches, in part because the unrelated robberies involve codefendants.

While noting he was hesitant to join the cases together, Billmeier said he was reserving decision and would issue a written opinion in the coming weeks.

Howard, 17 at the time Alvarez was killed, is being tried as an adult. He has been offered a plea deal by prosecutors calling for a 30-year sentence if he admits to robbery, aggravated manslaughter and weapons offenses.

The robbery and weapons counts carry 15-year and 7-year sentences, respectively, but they would run concurrently to the 30-year sentence for Alvarez’s death, prosecutors said.

Howard, who is jailed on a combined bail of $800,000, did not appear in court for the hearing because he refused to be transported from the county jail.

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