In a highly emotional court proceeding that centered around the death of 29-year-old Tromain Mackall, three people received their final sentencing from Circuit Court Judge Jay Wethington in relation to the 2016 homicide. After the three involved in the homicide received their sentences, Mackall’s mother provided an emotional testimony at the witness stand before she was carried out of the courtroom by family members.
Mackall was declared missing by the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office on July 26, 2016. His body was later discovered on Aug. 2, 2016, inside a toolbox, floating in Spring Fork Creek in Grayson County. Autopsy results declared Mackall died of multi-modal asphyxiation, meaning his breathing was impaired through more than one method. The cause of his death was determined a homicide.
William Eugene Howard, Jr., 50, Christopher S. Hill, 35, and Melanie D. Howard, 59, stood together before Judge Wethington as he sentenced the three defendants with the maximum time for each count.
William Howard received 30 years for charges of complicity in the murder and kidnapping of Mackall. Hill was given 15 years for facilitation in the murder and kidnapping of Mackall, and for tampering with physical evidence. Melanie Howard received 15 years as well for the facilitation of murder and kidnapping Mackall, as well as tampering with physical evidence and second-degree unlawful imprisonment.
William Howard must serve 85 percent of his 30-year sentence before being considered for parole, while Hill and Melanie Howard will serve 20 percent of their sentences — three years each — before being considered for parole eligibility.
Brian Quattrocchi, prosecutor with the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, said, even with Thursday’s sentences issued, the case remains ongoing as prosecutors have continued to receive more information about the murder of Mackall.
“There’s a lot of moving parts. It’s still a continuing investigation,” Quattrocchi said. “Today, these three took what we call a ‘stack sentence.’ They were charged with three to four counts, and they’ll serve those sentences consecutively.”
After the sentencing was issued, Mackall’s mother, Bertie, stood before the court as she explained to the crowd the person her son was, what his life meant to those who knew him and the emotional toll his death had taken on her own life.
Ms. Mackall described Tromain as her “baby son” and told Quattrocchi that Tromain was born and raised in Calvert County, Md. Mackall said Tromain had grown up in a big family and was the oldest of her four sons. Tromain had one son, she said, who is 9 years old — 7 at the time of his father’s murder.
Of her four children, Bertie described her late son as “the funniest one of the bunch.”
“He always wanted to make everybody laugh,” Bertie said. “Even when he wasn’t happy, he wanted everybody around him to be happy,”
After spending a year in the Navy, Bertie said her son was medically discharged because of an enlarged heart. Bertie found out her son would be moving to Kentucky after he met a friend on social media, which brought him south in February 2016.
Bertie said the last time she saw her son was right before he relocated. She discussed details of what led to finding out that her oldest son was missing.
“I got a call in the doctor’s office, saying he was missing and they don’t know what happened to him,” Bertie said. “The rest of the story is history. I was mentally destroyed.”
Quattrocchi later said that the lack of emotion shown by the three defendants had been par-for-the-course during the history of the three-year homicide case. Hill’s attorney issued a public condolence on behalf of Hill to the victim’s family, even telling Judge Wethington that Hill did not expect probation, even though he was currently eligible due to time already served. Nonetheless, Quattrocchi and, seemingly, Judge Wethington, felt the apology was too little too late, as probation wasn’t issued.
“I’ve never seen any remorse. It just isn’t there,” Quattrocchi said. “I thought [Hill’s] ‘condolences given’ [during his sentencing] were very hollow. It’s just a self-serving statement.”
Bertie didn’t look at the three defendants as she told her recollection of the events that occurred after her son’s violent homicide, and emotion wasn’t displayed by any of the three, even when Bertie began sobbing and screaming as her story unfolded.
“I tried to take my life. I tried to be strong for my kids, be strong for my nieces and nephews, and for my grandkids. I have to put on all these faces, and the only face I have for myself is a frown,” Bertie said. “It’s been three years. ‘Nearly three years ago’ is what everybody says, but it’s like yesterday for me. Every morning I wake up, that’s just the news I hear. That’s just it.”
According to Bertie, her three sons have also struggled with the death of their oldest brother, Tromain.
“They don’t want to hear his name. They can only think about the cowardly way he was taken away,” Bertie said. “I want to say that I’m angry, but I’m not angry. I’m disappointed. I don’t understand. I don’t know what he did here in Kentucky. I’ve gotten so many stories. But nothing could have led to the way he died. This was done maliciously.”
Bertie said her son was treated “worse than a dog” in the way he was killed. Even so, she said, she didn’t want to see the three defendants before her killed because that wasn’t in her nature. She didn’t hate them either, she said. However, Bertie’s emotions ran high toward the end of her testimony as she began screaming at the three defendants, looking them in the eye for the first time.
“You all have children. Can you understand — can you imagine — someone doing this to your child?” she asked them.
Before Bertie was carried out of the courtroom, she called William Howard, Melanie Howard and Hill “ruthless” in the way they killed her son. She told them her son had been loved by many.
“Three hundred people came to his funeral. I loved him, and I’ll never be able to say those words again,” she screamed. “If you wanted to break someone, you broke me. I’m broken. You broke me. I couldn’t even bury him. There was nothing left to bury — there were only ashes.”