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Kono family confronts killer

Telling him no punishment would bring back the man he killed, Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Leila Mills sentenced Wayne Brent Hower to 23 years in prison Wednesday for shooting local store owner Alan Kono.

“It is apparent that Kono was a husband, father, son and friend that will be enormously missed,” Mills said after listening to several tearful testimonials from the victim’s family and friends who packed the courtroom well before the 9 a.m. start of the hearing. “No sentence I impose can change what has happened. The best I can do is (show the community) that we cannot tolerate murder.”

Hower, 45, shot Kono on June 23, 2005, in the middle of the afternoon in front of P.J.’s Market, a tiny but popular store on Mile Hill Drive the victim owned for more than a decade. Several customers and passersby witnessed the crime, and it was reportedly recorded on a video surveillance system that Kono installed overlooking the parking lot.

Hower, who has a long history of mental illness, previously claimed innocence by reason of insanity to a first-degree murder charge, but pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of second-degree murder.

His sentence — officially 280 months — is the top end of his sentencing range and was recommended by both the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office and Hower’s defense attorneys.

And while most of the people who addressed Mills before she sentenced Hower thanked the prosecutors for their hard work and dedication, they also expressed frustration with his punishment.

“You stole a beautiful life and turned many other lives upside down and inside out,” said friend Cris Connors. “You deserve the death penalty, and I hope you spend the the next 23 years haunted by the faces in this courtroom.”

Kono’s daughter Stephanie also prepared a statement, which was read by Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Montgomery.

“I have never felt so much rage and anger toward another person, (and) there is no way to describe the emptiness we feel,” Montgomery read, her voice breaking as she read Stephanie’s words explaining that her mother lost her best friend, and she will never have someone to walk her down the aisle or be a grandfather to her children.

Describing himself as a longtime friend and customer, Bill Gilland said he and many others he knew still missed Kono on a regular basis, in large and small ways.

“The pain I feel is probably the same as dozens and hundreds of others,” Gilland said, explaining that he stopped by the market every day to talk to Kono before going to work. “It is hard to describe how that started off your day.”

The last to speak was Kono’s widow, Jennifer.

“Al was the complete opposite of this murderer, and I need to know (Hower) will spend the next 23 years in prison,” she said, explaining that she did not believe his claim of insanity, and that Hower was “confronted about a tab, and (he) got angry. But if he had just asked for help, Al would have been one of the few who would have helped him.”

Most of the courtroom was visibly affected at the end of her statement, including Mills and both Hower and his defense attorney David LaCross.

Hower then addressed the court, speaking publicly about the murder for the first time.

“I am remorseful and ... sorry for what I did,” Hower said, reading from a typed statement LaCross brought to the courtroom. “I was not in my right mind when I did it, and it was not something I wanted to happen.”

No one else spoke on Hower’s behalf before Mills gave her sentence.

“Al had much to look forward to in his life, like the graduations, marriages and grandchildren of his children,” she said. “You have taken these years away from Kono, from his family and from the community. I don’t know know if you ever can fully appreciate the sorrow felt by this community.”

A restitution hearing is scheduled in August.

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