New trial to start for Santa Rosa woman blamed for fiery fatal crash

  • Heather Howell (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ PD FILE, 2013)

A Santa Rosa woman facing retrial in a fatal crash that happened as she chased her boyfriend on his motorcycle will try to exclude incriminating statements she allegedly made to paramedics at the scene.

At her first trial, jurors were told Heather Howell, 31, engaged in small talk with paramedics, saying “I’m going down,” and “I know they are going to get me,” according to testimony.

Howell also was overheard by paramedics talking on a cellphone to her boyfriend, Charles “Tony” Kraus, then 45 of Penngrove. Police testified she asked him, “What is your story?” and urged him not to talk to police.

While jurors found her guilty of reckless driving and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, they deadlocked on second-degree murder, voting 9-3 in favor of conviction. Prosecutors ordered a new trial on the lone count.

This time around, Howell’s new lawyer, Chief Deputy Public Defender Kristine Burk, will try to keep out certain statements that came in under Howell’s previous attorney, Steve Spiegelman.

In pretrial motions, Burk is asking to exclude any statements attributed to Howell by two paramedics that were obtained while she was in law enforcement custody and the paramedics were acting as government agents.

She suggests those statements may be inadmissible, in part because Howell was not advised of her right against self-incrimination.

Burk also will try to block statements Howell made to CHP officers and a detective, as well as a text message she sent to her aunt requesting a lawyer.

Also, Burk is seeking to exclude autopsy photos and testimony from a forensic pathologist that included graphic descriptions of the victim’s injuries.

She and prosecutor Anne Masterson are expected to argue the motions before Judge Robert LaForge. Jury selection begins Wednesday.

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