Dispute over ‘baby mama,’ possible witness tampering revealed as attempted murder trial begins

Joe Angel Delacruz in police booking photo. He is on trial for attempted murder for a 2017 shooting.
Joe Angel Delacruz in police booking photo. He is on trial for attempted murder for a 2017 shooting. Fresno Police Department

Francis Howard testified Tuesday that he was trying to protect his baby brother from harm when he got shot twice in a confrontation with his brother’s rival.

Howard was hit once in the thigh and once in the back on Sept. 12, 2017 while standing outside his apartment on North Marks Avenue near Dakota Avenue.

The alleged shooter, Joe Angel Delacruz, 27, is on trial charged with attempted murder, assault with a semi-automatic firearm and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He faces 29-years-to-life in prison if found guilty.

Prosecutor Andrew Janz said in his opening statements that Francis Howard wasn’t Delacruz’s intended target; it was Howard’s little brother Brian. Delacruz was angry with Brian Howard, partly because they dated the same woman and she and Brian Howard had a child together. Delacruz also has a child from the same woman.

Francis Howard said he barely knew Delacruz.

“All I know is that he was my little brother’s baby mama’s baby daddy,” he said.

Brian Howard testified that he had broken up with Delacruz’s ex-girlfriend prior to the shooting, but there was still bad blood between the two men.

Two versions of confrontation

The jury heard two versions of the confrontation that led to the shooting.

Janz said that in the late evening of Sept. 12, Delacruz came looking for Brian Howard. Instead, Delacruz found Francis Howard standing outside the family’s apartment, smoking a cigarette and talking on the phone. Delacruz asked Francis for his younger brother, but he denied having one, hoping Delacruz would go away.

He didn’t. Instead, Delacruz confronted Francis Howard saying, “Do you want to die?”

“I said I didn’t give a (expletive),” Francis Howard testified. “And he shot me in the leg and then shot me in the back.”

Francis Howard ran inside the apartment where his mother called 911 and treated his wounds.

“I didn’t know if I was going to see him alive when they took him away in the ambulance,” Jennifer Howard testified.

Delacruz’s defense attorney Miles Harris painted a different picture of what happened that night. Harris said Francis Howard was the aggressor. He said as soon as Francis Howard saw Delacruz, he ran inside the apartment to get a knife. He then went back outside and threatened him. Delacruz fired his weapon in self-defense, Harris said.

During cross examination by Harris, Francis Howard denied having a knife or confronting Delacruz. His mother and younger brother, Brian, also testified Francis Howard did not have a knife that night.

Witness tampering?

During his testimony, Francis Howard hesitated to answer questions or didn’t answer them at all. He admitted to Janz that he did not want to be there because the Howard family has been urged not to testify.

“People have tried to pay me off,” Francis Howard testified. “I got offered money, weed, everything, but I turned it all down.”

His mother, Jennifer, testified that the family’s apartment windows have been broken several times by people she believes are trying to get the family to stay silent.

Francis Howard has already spent several months in county jail for ignoring a subpoena to testify, Janz said.

When asked by Janz why her son was reluctant to testify, she said he was concerned about retribution against the family.

“He knows the people who continue to harass,” she said. “And he knows it’s going to get worse and worse.”

The trial continues Wednesday in the courtroom of Judge Alvin Harrell III.

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A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.