Drug dealer avoids jail in daughter’s killing

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Charged with murder in the 1999 death of his 2-year-old daughter, Frank Howard boasted he would not spend a day in prison.

“If I do plead guilty there, I won’t get a day for it,” Howard, 39, testified in an unrelated Washington, D.C., drug case in 2004, though he insisted he was innocent.

A drug dealer in Washington in the 1990s, Howard later reached a plea deal that spared him a lengthy sentence in his daughter’s death before he began a new life in the federal witness protection program in the fall of 2007, according to court records.

Frank Howard should have been held accountable, and the fact he wasn’t is upsetting,” said Prince George’s Police Detective Chuck Richardson, one of the investigators in the 1999 killing of Howard’s daughter, Keontaye Smith.

The story of Frank Howard, who has gone from an accused child killer to a federally protected witness, provides insight into the little-known deals prosecutors sometimes make to convict high-profile crime figures — and how criminals who cooperate can benefit in unexpected ways.

Howard declined to comment for this story through the Justice Department.

Leniency in the death of his daughter was never part of Howard’s deal with federal prosecutors to testify against former associates in a violent drug-trafficking organization in Washington that authorities dubbed “Murder Inc.

Federal prosecutors in Washington said they took no position in the Keontaye Smith case, a separate investigation headed by Prince George’s County authorities, who delayed their case for years as Howard cooperated with federal prosecutors.

Howard eventually pleaded guilty to child abuse in his daughter’s death in 2006. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. But his plea deal also essentially allowed him to go free the next year. The agreement let Howard serve his 2006 sentence for child abuse “concurrent” with another eight-year sentence he was nearly finished serving in the unrelated federal Murder Inc. drug case, according to court records.

Like Howard, Keontaye’s mother, Tamara Smith, also pleaded guilty to child abuse, but she was incarcerated after getting sentenced to six years in prison.

Federal prosecutors weren’t involved in the Keontaye Smith case but did help Howard get a sentencing break for other crimes.

Citing “valuable” testimony by Howard against a violent group of drug dealers, including one man convicted in 19 murders, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington recommended an eight-year prison term for Howard after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the “Murder Inc.” case.

Among other federal crimes, Howard aided in three murders and supplied the gun in the attempted murder of an FBI informant, according to court records. If convicted at trial, he would have faced life in prison.

In that way, Howard isn’t unlike other “cooperators” — such as Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, Henry Hill and Mickey Featherstone — criminals who testify against major crime figures, get a reduced sentence then disappear into the federal witness protection program.

Among those Howard testified against was longtime friend Kevin Gray, who was convicted in 2003 of ordering or carrying out a record 19 murders in the District. He was sentenced to life in prison after a jury deadlocked on the death penalty. His conviction remains under appeal.

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