Rowell guilty in murder of transgender woman, jury decides


Highlights

Jury after four hours rejected the Childress man’s claims that he shot Monica Loera in self-defense.

Prosecutors in their closing arguments said facts and ‘common sense’ belie Rowell’s claim.

Prosecutors say that Rowell days later was online researching evasion of murder charges and seeking paid sex.

As the guilty verdict was announced in court late Monday afternoon, Monica Loera’s sisters embraced and broke into tears.

After four hours of deliberation, Travis County jurors convicted JonCasey Rowell of murder in the January 2016 death of Loera at her North Austin home.

That jury will return Tuesday for the punishment phase for Rowell, 30, a Childress man who was working temporarily in Central Texas last year when he killed the transgender woman after arranging online to pay her for sex. Loera, 43, who made the transition to a woman in her 20s, was well-known in the local LGBT community.

Rowell had claimed he fired his gun in self-defense. The first-degree felony carries a possible term of five to 99 years.

The shooting happened about 2:30 a.m. that January night after Rowell went to Loera’s door a third time. Testimony at trial indicated Rowell had left the house intending to get condoms, then noticed that he had left his vest, phone and keys inside the home on East Powell Lane. On Rowell’s first return to the door, Loera gave him those items.

Agitated, Rowell came back to the door because he thought Loera had kept his wallet. The wallet later turned out to be in a vest pocket. Left behind, for reasons that never became clear, was Rowell’s Austin Community College ID card.

What happened on that last visit to the door remained in dispute, other than Rowell admitting that he had shot Loera in the neck after she opened the door. Rowell fled, returned to his wife and their 10-day-old child in Childress, and then came back to Central Texas three days later because he was working in Georgetown. He was arrested less than a week after Loera’s death.

Rowell’s defense centered on the argument that he felt threatened when Loera opened the door. He claimed that Loera shouted through that door that she had a baseball bat, something witnesses said did not occur. His lawyer, Jeff Senter, said Monday that the door “exploded” open and that Loera lunged at Rowell. The shot traveled less than a foot before hitting Loera, prosecutors said.

“What is he to do?” Senter said in his closing argument. “He’s been told he’s going to be hit with a baseball bat.”

But prosecutors, in their closing arguments Monday, noted that Rowell grabbed the gun before that last visit to the door, fully cocked it and took off the safety. Witnesses, including three people in Loera’s home and two neighbors, contradicted several elements of Rowell’s story during the five-day trial, prosecutors said. Police did not find a baseball bat on the premises, Travis County Assistant District Attorney Mark Pryor said.

“Turns out this is really not much of a whodunit,” Pryor told the jury. Rowell “intentionally, knowingly caused the death of Monica. He meant to pull the trigger.”

Rowell’s self-defense argument depended in part on the idea that he believed he had been robbed. But prosecutor Beth Payan said the facts and “common sense” made his story “preposterous.”

His real intent, she said, was to hide from his family and church community the “dirty little secret” that he was paying $100 to $400 for sex while working away from home. By the next day, Payan said a review of his cellphone showed, Rowell was searching online to find out how many people get away with murder each year in the United States. By three days later, as he returned to the Austin area, Rowell was online looking for prostitutes in Abilene, Waco and Austin, Payan said.

“He screwed up, and he thought his whole world would come tumbling down,” she said.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

FORECAST: Thunderstorms could bring hail Sunday morning
FORECAST: Thunderstorms could bring hail Sunday morning

The Austin area could see some thunderstorms on Sunday, with rainfall likely according to the National Weather Service. Isolated thunderstorms could produce large hail over Travis, Williamson, Bastrop, Lee, Hays and surrounding counties, with the chance of storms dwindling in the afternoon and evening hours, according to the weather service. The chance...
Traffic report for Monday, Feb. 26

Interstate 35 (Travis County): The northbound outside lane will be closed between Boggy Creek and Stassney Lane from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights. The William Cannon exit will be closed as needed. The southbound outside lane will be closed between Stassney and Boggy Creek from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights. Reduced...
Split vote likely on removing Confederate names from Austin schools
Split vote likely on removing Confederate names from Austin schools

A split vote is expected Monday night as the Austin school board decides whether to remove Confederate names from five campuses. At least five of trustees, the minimum needed to move the measure forward, have expressed support for the measure. But others on the board continue to raise concerns about the name changes, saying the board’s action...
Catholic bishops sever ties to Texas Right to Life, exposing rift
Catholic bishops sever ties to Texas Right to Life, exposing rift

Exposing a deep and widening rift in the state’s energetic anti-abortion movement, the Catholic bishops of Texas have directed churches across the state to refrain from working with Texas Right to Life, which bills itself as the “oldest and largest statewide pro-life organization.” According to a written directive, Texas Right to...
FluMist returns for next flu season, but it won’t be for everyone
FluMist returns for next flu season, but it won’t be for everyone

Next flu season, most people will again have the choice between a flu shot and FluMist, an inhaled live virus vaccine. Last week, AstraZeneca, the maker of FluMist, announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend the vaccine for the 2018-19 season, two years after...
More Stories