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Hower agrees to accept plea deal

Just days before his murder trial was scheduled to begin, Wayne Brent Hower pleaded guilty on Friday to killing local store owner Al Kono.

Although Hower, 45, suffers from schizophrenia and his defense attorneys have been preparing for nearly a year to present an insanity defense, Kitsap County Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Montgomery said her office was approached about a plea agreement last week.

“We were pretty much geared up for trial,” said Montgomery, explaining that she and fellow prosecutor Mike Savage had not had any prior negotiations with defense attorneys David LaCross and John O’Melveny regarding a plea agreement.

The defense’s case was weakened considerably last month when Superior Court Judge Leila Mills ruled the prosecution could present evidence that Hower committed several other violent acts in the past, including beating a puppy and threatening to shoot a neighbor, and was accused of sexually abusing his daughter.

“The prosecutor’s office put a lot of work into this,” Montgomery said. “It would have been the easy way out to just agree that he was insane, but we didn’t feel that the evidence supported that opinion.”

Originally charged with first-degree murder and facing the rest of his life behind bars, Hower pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last week, which Montgomery said is murder with intent.

The charge also has an added allegation for the use of a firearm.

“(Both sides) are agreeing to recommend the high end of the standard range, which is a total of 280 months (just over 23 years),” she said.

However, Montgomery said that at Hower’s sentencing scheduled for May 17, Mills does not have to accept the recommendation and can reduce or lengthen the sentence.

Before accepting the plea agreement, Montgomery said Kono’s family was consulted, but that the ultimate decision rested with Prosecutor Russ Hauge.

“We feel this is a good resolution — despite the tragedy,” Montgomery said. “But, of course, it won’t bring (Kono) back.”

Kono was 48 years old when Hower shot him on June 23, 2005, in front of P.J.’s Market, the store Kono owned and ran for several years on Mile Hill Drive.

He is survived by his wife and two teen-aged children.

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