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Court Sentences Convicted Killer to Death Row for the Third Time Over Child Murders

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The past few months have seen US courts ruling on long-serving inmates nationwide. While some are appealing to throw out their death row sentences, others just bagged theirs. The latter is the case for 57-year-old Howard Steven Ault.

A picture of the death row inmate
Source: MiamiHerald/X

According to court records, Ault is a convicted murderer. However, a jury decided to sentence him to death row for the third time in Florida. The 57-year-old man reportedly raped and killed two young sisters in 1996. Court documents state that he lured them to his Fort Lauderdale home with the promise of Halloween candy.

Then, he raped DeAnn Emerald Mu’min, 11, in front of her sister, 7-year-old Sybilla Jones, and strangled them both. Afterward, Ault threw their bodies in his attic. Court documents show that authorities found their bodies two days later in his attic.

As a result, in 1999, a court convicted him of the two girls’ murders and sentenced him to death. However, he later successfully appealed that sentence. Again, in 2007, the court convicted Ault to death, but like the first, he succeeded in appealing the second time.

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Despite the two rulings, the court never overturned his conviction. However, his luck ran out on Tuesday, February 20, 2024. According to reports, a Broward jury voted 9-3 in support of a death sentence recommendation for Ault on Tuesday.

Also, the victim’s brother, Bobby Jones, testified against Ault ahead of the decision. “It was emotional; it brought up a lot of hate and feelings that I thought I had put behind me,” he said. 

“Here is a man that murdered two children, and he’s been sitting for 20-something years.” Ault’s fate depended on only eight jurors after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law in April 2023. The law allows juries to recommend a death sentence with an 8-4 vote instead of a unanimous vote.

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DeSantis pushed for the change after the Parkland school shooter, who killed 17 people, escaped the death penalty in 2022. Also, Ault’s resentencing came after the Florida Supreme Court granted death row inmates a new sentencing hearing in 2017.

The ruling came after the Supreme Court found that Florida’s death penalty process didn’t require jurors’ unanimous decision. Hence, the court deemed the process unconstitutional. According to reports, jurors in the original sentencing, in 2000, opted to send Ault to the electric chair. 

However, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing three years later. The court reportedly raised concerns about the jury selection process at Ault’s trial. Starting his closing argument, prosecutor Stephen Zaccor turned to the jury, listing a string of crimes linked to Ault.

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According to the prosecutor, they include sexual battery on a minor in 1994 and 1995. Also, Zaccor noted the 1996 rape and murder of DeAnn and the killing of her sister Alicia. Furthermore, Zaccor said an expert described Ault as a “violent sexual predator” and a diagnosed pedophile who’s a danger to children.

But Ault’s actions, Zaccor argued, went beyond that. “What about pedophilia causes you to put your hands on the neck of an 11-year-old,” the prosecutor argued. “And squeeze until she’s no longer living?” He added, “And then do the same to her sister?”

On the other hand, Defense Attorney Lien Lafargue pleaded with jurors to spare Ault’s life. She displayed Ault’s baby picture, claiming the evidence presented depicted a holistic view of a “mentally broken” man. “Give him life because he’s a damaged man,” Lafargue said. “Show the mercy he didn’t show those victims.”

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