CRESTVIEW — Thirteen years will have passed since Melissa Howard was murdered by the time the next trial date for David Russell Holbrook Jr., her accused killer, appears on the Okaloosa County court docket.
Howard’s Jan. 6, 2006, death stunned the quiet Crestview community in which she lived and for a decade befuddled the city police department working to solve it. Holbrook was charged with first degree murder in November of 2016.
Since that day, 13 trial dates have come and gone as continuances have been granted to one side of the case or the other. The current scheduled date for the case to be heard is Feb. 18.
Last week, the attorney representing Holbrook filed a Notice of Intent to Offer Alibi Evidence, and announced his plan to call nine witnesses to testify that Holbrook was attending a birthday party on the day Howard died.
Howard, 33, had been divorced for almost three years when her body was found inside her home at 222 Tiffot Ave. in Crestview. The petite, athletic mother of three had been violently beaten about the head and her throat had been cut.
At the time of her death she had just emerged victorious from a nasty custody battle. Her ex-husband, Brian Howard, had been ordered to release the couple’s son, Taylor, to his ex-wife’s care.
Brian Howard was questioned immediately after the killing but provided an airtight alibi. Investigators quickly discovered he had been dining out on the night his ex-wife was killed.
A year after the homicide, a Crestview Police Department investigator told the Northwest Florida Daily News that the lack of physical evidence gathered in the case made him wonder if Howard had been murdered by a professional.
Holbrook was a friend of the Howard family up until the time Brian and Melissa divorced, according to Jennifer Knudson, Melissa’s best friend at the time of her death. In 2016, Knudson related an eerie story of an unexpected visit Howard had received from Holbrook shortly before her death.
Knudson said she was talking on the phone with Howard one day a couple of weeks before she was killed when someone knocked on Howard’s door.
“I asked her who it was, and she said ‘Russell,’ ” Knudson recalled, remembering that the out-of -the-blue visit left both her and Howard feeling uncomfortable.
The news release announcing Holbrook’s arrest confirmed “evidence obtained in 2006 was insufficient to support an arrest.”
In May of 2015, Crestview authorities, assisted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, decided to give the Howard case another look. State Attorney Bill Eddins said Holbrook’s arrest followed “a very extensive long-term investigation.”
“There was a re-examination of the evidence with more sophisticated investigative techniques than were available 10 years ago,” he said after Holbrook was taken into custody.
The Notice of Intent to Offer Alibi Evidence filed by attorney John Jarvis states that Jarvis “does not believe the evidence” he is offering but is doing so “in an abundance of caution.”
The notice claims that on Jan. 6, 2006, Holbrook was at a birthday party at his Northview Lane, Crestview, home.
It states he left the party to take his children to their mother’s home and then went to purchase over the counter medication.
Holbrook tried to buy the medication first at a convenience store and then at the city’s Walmart, where he found what he was seeking, the court record states. He then returned home to the birthday party, according to the notice of intent.