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Judge to decide if Kono's killer will face jury

In two weeks, a Kitsap County Superior Court judge will determine if there is enough evidence to declare accused murderer Wayne Brent Hower insane, or if his fate should be decided by a jury.

“At that time (Judge Leila Mills) can do two things,” Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Montgomery said. “She can hear all the evidence and decide yes, the defense met their burden of proof, or no, they didn’t, and let the jury decide.”

Hower, 44, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of shopkeeper Alan Kono last summer.

After pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, Hower — who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, a hybrid of schizophrenia — was evaluated by two medical experts at Western State Hospital to determine his mental state at the time of the killing.

Last month, both doctors — one a court-appointed expert and the other hired by Hower’s defense attorneys David LaCross and John O’Melveny — came to the same conclusion.

“(The experts) believe Hower was insane when he committed the crime,” Montgomery said, explaining that it has yet to be determined whether the defense has proven its case. “The state’s position is that it is the defense’s burden to prove (Hower) was insane, and we are going to hold them to that burden.”

Montgomery said if Mills determines the defense met their burden, Hower will be acquitted.

“Then if she deems him a significant danger to society, he will (most likely) be ordered back to Western State for an indeterminate period of time,” she said.

However, if the judge decides the defense did not meet their burden of proof, Hower will still face a jury trial, scheduled to begin March 1.

Montgomery said she filed a motion to have Hower’s sanity determined during the jury trial, but the defense won their motion to have a separate hearing before Judge Mills.

Hower is accused of shooting Kono, the longtime owner of the popular P.J.’s Market on Mile Hill Drive, in the head shortly after 1:20 p.m. in the parking lot of the store in plain view of several customers and passersby.

Kono, 48, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he later died of a gunshot wound to the head.

According to Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, several deputies, aided by witnesses, then arrested Hower at his residence 16 minutes later, but have reportedly not uncovered a motive for the killing.

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