Goodyear man accused in grandmother's death

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) -- A Goodyear man who already was jailed in an alleged SUV theft and officer assault was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of killing of his 78-year-old grandmother, whose body was found in the desert after another relative reported her missing, police said.

Jason Eric Howell, 40, faces new charges of premeditated first-degree murder, hindering prosecution and concealing or abandoning of a body, police spokeswoman Lisa Kutis said.

Police said the body of Helen Jean Lee was discovered Saturday near Gila Bend, about 75 miles southwest of Phoenix, in the same general area where Howell led detectives to find evidence in the case last week.

Authorities didn't immediately know Tuesday afternoon if Howell had an attorney.

Lee was positively identified Monday by dental records. She was reported missing last Wednesday when police responded to her home after receiving a call from her daughter who was concerned she wasn't able to reach the woman.

Investigators suspected Lee might have been killed after finding "severe damage" to the garage door of the house, Kutis said. Lee's cause of death and other details surrounding the case were being withheld because of the ongoing police investigation, she said.

The same day Lee was reported missing, Howell was arrested on multiple charges, including assaulting a police officer and kidnapping.

Police in Chandler, about 30 miles east of Goodyear, say Howell stole an SUV that was idling outside an elementary school.

A 12-year-old girl in the back seat managed to escape the moving vehicle and suffered minor injuries, according to a police report. Howell then led police on a chase that ended after he rammed an officer's patrol car, the report states.

Howell was arrested after first telling police to "shoot him," according to the report.

Detectives say Howell told police he was drunk and high on methamphetamine.

Howell was jailed on a $300,000 bond in the other case and has a scheduled court appearance Thursday.

Police said Howell was awaiting an initial court appearance on the new charges.

Kutis declined to discuss a motive for the killing or any evidence authorities believe connects Howell to the crime.