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Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Leila Fowler Murder Case

     Barry Fowler lived with his fiancee and his three children in Valley Springs, a central California town of 7,500 60 miles southeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

     On Saturday evening, April 27, 2013, Barry Fowler's 12-year-old son Isiah and his 8-year-old daughter were home alone while he attended a little league baseball game. That evening Crystal Walters, the children's mother received a call from her son Isiah who reported that an intruder had just run out of the house. Crystal called 911 and informed the dispatcher that, "My children are at home alone and a man just ran out of our house. My older son was in the bathroom and my daughter started screaming. He [the boy] came out and a man was in the house. They [the children] said they're okay. My daughter is freaking out right now." 

     Deputies with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office upon arrival at the Fowler house found the 8-year-old girl, Leila Fowler, bleeding to death from several stab wounds. (She died shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital. Based on the context of Crystal Walter's 911 call, Leila was presumably stabbed sometime between her brother's call to their mother and the arrival of the police.)

     The victim's 12-year-old brother Isiah described the intruder as a tall man with long gray hair. At some point after the man ran off the boy discovered his dying sister. (I don't know if crime scene investigators recovered a bloody knife, made a blood spatter analysis or collected the clothing worn by the brother.) According to media reports the officers found no evidence that theft had been a motive for the intrusion. There was no physical evidence of a break-in. The intruder could have gained entry by knocking on the door.

     The forensic pathologist who performed Leila Fowler's autopsy determined the cause of death to be shock and bleeding. The manner of death: homicide by stabbing.

     Investigators with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, operating on the intruder theory, launched a massive manhunt for Leila Fowler's killer. The investigation included rounding up and questioning the area's registered sex offenders. With a murderous home invader on the loose residents of the community locked their doors and loaded their guns.

     A week or so into the murder investigation rumors surfaced that detectives now considered Isiah, the Fowler boy, as a prime suspect. On May 11, two weeks after the murder, deputies arrested the victim's 12-year-old brother. Detectives also searched the Fowler house and walked away with several knives. (This suggests they did not have the murder weapon.) Charged as an adult with second-degree murder the Fowler boy was placed into a juvenile detention center.

     At a press conference following Isiah Fowler's arrest Sheriff Gary Kuntz said, "Citizens of Calaveras County, you can sleep a little better tonight."

     On May 13, 2013, two days after Isiah's arrest, the murder suspect's father told an Associated Press reporter that he will believe his son is innocent until he sees evidence that proves otherwise. "If they have the evidence, well that's another story. We're an honest family," Barry Fowler said. (Detectives must have interrogated the boy without acquiring a confession.)

     On May 15, 2013 after a closed juvenile hearing, defense attorney Mark Reichel in speaking to an Associated Press reporter said his young client may have lied about encountering a long-haired man in the house. Reichel added that such an admission was not evidence of the boy's guilt. "How does a 12-year-old commit the perfect crime?" he asked.

     The murder suspect's second attorney, Steve Presser, raised doubts that his client was old enough to assist in his own defense. "Can a 12-year-old be psychologically, intellectually and emotionally mature enough to aid his attorneys in defending himself against the most serious of charges? We have no reason to have any doubts about our client's innocence," he said. "We have questions. Why do the police think the minor did this? And how did it not lead to an immediate arrest and take 2,000 hours of resources by the sheriff's office and the FBI?"

     In October 2015 a Calaveras County judge in a trial without a jury found Isiah Fowler guilty of second-degree murder. The juvenile's attorney appealed the conviction on the grounds the boy's confessions were unalike and not supported by the evidence. According to the defense the boy had been pressured by his father to cooperate with detectives.

     In February 2018 three judges on Californian's 3rd District Court of Appeals reversed the conviction. 
     Isiah Fowler was retried for second-degree murder in June 2018. He was found guilty by Superior Court Judge Susan C. Harlan who sentenced the 17-year-old to 16 years to life in prison.

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