MONROE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, Wash. state – Last December, just two days before Christmas, we featured an exclusive interview with Aaron Howerton, a rock legend incarcerated with me here. While he was down back then over being denied clemency after serving 27 years behind bars, since he was profiled in The News Station, things started looking up for the skilled musician.
“Until recently I’ve felt, for the most part, excluded from life,” he tells me through the steel bars of his six-by-nine foot cage — a limited and lonely cell that may not be his home much longer.
On March 11th 2021, the Washington state Supreme Court, in accordance with modern science pertaining to brain development, ruled it unconstitutional to issue life sentences to individuals under the age of 21 (State vs Monschke). This ruling will apply retroactively to 26 Washington state lifers, allowing them to return to court for resentencing. After nearly three decades of incarceration for his participation, in the 1994 murder of Wilder Eby, Aaron Howerton may finally regain his freedom. Something he hasn’t known since being incarcerated at 19.
“My attorneys are asking for credit for time served,” he tells The News Station, “because 27 years is more than a life sentence for any teenager.”
Aaron Howerton and I live on the same tier. Since he was denied clemency in December, most days I’ve found myself here, standing outside his cell, asking how he’s holding up.
“I just wanted my voice to be heard because other than my music career and prison tables, I’ve been silenced for so long”Aaron Howerton
It was mind boggling to see him denied clemency, as he’s practically a poster-child of the unlikelihood to re-offend for which the board claims to be looking. Prior to his conviction, he had no criminal history, and he’s used these three decades to give back to society, donating every penny he’s earned from tens-of-thousands of record sales to charity.
Yet, while others with extensive criminal backgrounds, multiple murders and less community involvement were granted the coveted recommendation for clemency, Aaron was issued a denial. It would have been crushing to a less fortified individual.
“It was a five to zero vote against me,” he recalls. “One of the board members even said he found nothing extraordinary about me.”
Rather than retreat into the darkness where most lifers live — secluded from and forgotten by the outside world — Aaron and his fiancé sent The News Station article to world renown England-based journalist, Raphael Rowe.
Rowe, best known as the host of Netflix’s Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons, was wrongfully convicted of murder and a string of robberies in 1990. He subsequently spent 12 years in prison where he studied journalism through correspondence courses. After his conviction was overturned in 2000, he went to work for the BBC, where he’s still a reporter.
He responded immediately with a request to interview Aaron on his popular podcast: Second Chance. Though the broadcast, which was released this week, was ultimately titled, Musical Murderer, Aaron chose to focus on the details of his case, how evidence which could have vindicated him was withheld and the struggles he’s encountered over the past 27 years, rather than to promote his albums.
“It was loud all around me,” Aaron says, “and I explained that to him. He could relate so he was empathetic. He asked some great questions. In my nervousness, I was trying to put in as much information as possible with such a complicated case. I tried to be honest, articulate, and just be myself, because my goal was to have people be able to understand my story. I wasn’t looking for compassion, I just wanted my voice to be heard because other than my music career and prison tables, I’ve been silenced for so long.”
Though informative and captivating, the interview went fast, and Aaron tells me he wishes he could have expounded on his complicated relationship with John Padilla, the associate superintendent of our prison, who was also the investigating officer in his case.
“I have a good relationship with him,” he asserts. “From the day he arrested me, to him becoming my keeper. But I think he knows in his heart that he failed in my case.”
In 2015, Aaron received a letter asking for forgiveness from someone who testified at his trial. The author claimed they were threatened into lying by Padilla.
“15 years into my sentence, I learned that a witness came forward out of fear,” Aaron explains. “Her boyfriend had confessed to her this crime, had her throw the murder weapon in the river, and told her if she didn’t help, he would kill her and her mother. The next day, the mother called the cops, and it was Padilla who responded. That evidence was withheld.”
He goes on to relay how the morning he was arrested, he showed a team of roughly 50 search and rescue members where the crime took place, and told them his co-defendant had picked up the shell casing.
“They couldn’t find it,” he asserts, “and then six months later they say Padilla mysteriously found it in the woods.”
Just when I’m attempting to weigh the credibility of Aaron’s story, he hands me an article printed in 2015 in which Padilla is listed as a person of interest in the investigation of the notorious Highway 2 serial killings.
“I have a good relationship with him. From the day he arrested me, to him becoming my keeper. But I think he knows in his heart that he failed in my case”Aaron Howerton
Padilla was ultimately relieved of his position with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department. The Department of Corrections, however, welcomed him with open arms, putting him in charge of our prison.
Since Musical Murderer aired, people from around the globe have reached out to Aaron, wanting to show their support and wish him well. Within the next 90 days, he’ll be taken back to court, and no matter what the outcome, he’ll no longer have a life sentence.
Until then, he’s staying busy, writing a screenplay and more music to share with the world.
“I wanna thank the News Station for giving me visibility,” he tells me, “and my fiancé Lay because she’s the only one who’s ever fought for me.”