GEORGE COUNTY -- The suspect in a rape and kidnapping found dead in a Hattiesburg motel room in October died of natural causes, though he also had controlled substances in his system, Lucedale police investigator Stuart Fairchild said Friday.
"He had a bad heart and all," Fairchild said. The investigator, however, would not identify the controlled substances toxicology tests showed were in his system at the time of his Aug. 16 death, noting Howell had family in the area. In addition, Fairchild said he wanted to first present the information to a grand jury charged with reviewing the case.
Police Chief Barry Lambert had told the Sun Herald in an earlier interview the autopsy indicated Howell had scar tissue around his heart from a condition his family said he suffered from for years, but showed no physical injuries. Lambert said then he felt the toxicology "is gong to tell the tale of how he died."
Howell, a store manager at the Jr. Food Mart in Lucedale was suspected in the Aug. 15 rape and kidnapping of one of his clerks.
The woman told police he was waiting for her in the store's parking lot when she arrived for work.
She told police Howell bound and gagged her, forced her into his car and drove her to nearby motel, where he repeatedly raped her. When Howell fell asleep in the early Sunday morning she ran out of the room for help.
Authorities found Howell dead the following day in the motel room in Hattiesburg.
Lambert said investigators found evidence that corroborated the woman's story. The findings will be presented to a grand jury.
At the time of Howell's death, he was out of jail on a $50,000 bond on 24 counts of sexual battery in an unrelated case. He had been indicted in 2013 and had been out of jail on bond in that case since Sept. 20, 2013.
That case had been delayed at least eight times for various reasons, but primarily because he was still awaiting a mental evaluation.