Grand jury indicts two suspects charged with 2009 murders

Published 11:17 am Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Shelby County grand jury returned indictments Jan. 20 on a pair of suspects charged with killing two juveniles in Montevallo and southeast Shelby County.

The jury indicted 22-year-old James Wesley Howard on one count of capital murder in connection with the Dec. 27 death of 15-month-old Kara Nicole Lee.

The jury also returned an indictment on 52-year-old Diane Harris Stephens on counts of reckless murder and leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries.

Howard was originally arrested by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department Dec. 24 and charged with one count of aggravated child abuse after Lee arrived at Shelby Baptist Medical Center suffering severe injuries.

However, the Shelby County District Attorney’s office later increased Howard’s charge to capital murder after Lee died Dec. 27 at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.

Crews with the Southeast Shelby Rescue Squad transported Lee to Shelby Baptist after one of Lee’s neighbors near the 200 block of Shelby County 405, near Lay Lake, called 911 to report the child’s injuries.

Howard had been living with Lee’s mother, Brittany Alish Lee, for about two months before the incident, according to Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry. Howard is currently being held in the Shelby County Jail without bond.

Stephens was arrested on Nov. 26, 2009, after a Nov. 23 wreck on Alabama 119 claimed the life of 18-year-old Madison resident and University of Montevallo student Amy Elliott.

The wreck happened in the northbound lane of Alabama 119 shortly before 7 p.m. Nov. 23. According to court records, Stephens had several previous felony convictions, including a 1984 drunken driving conviction in the Birmingham Municipal Court, a 1998 property theft charge and a 2003 conviction for driving on the wrong side of the highway in the Montevallo Municipal Court.

Stephens is currently being held in the Shelby County jail in lieu of a $150,000 bond.