Police believe he killed his wife

Updated: August 17, 2004, 10:14 PM ET
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Martha Howard was distraught and openly wept as she told reporters her heart broke with the death of her son, two-time Olympian Robert Howard. Arkansas track and field coach John McDonnell offered his prayers.

Howard's private and public families grieved Monday following news that the former Arkansas Razorback athlete jumped to his death from the 10th story of a medical school building after allegedly stabbing his neurosurgeon wife to death.

"We were deeply saddened to hear of the great loss of two gifted, young people who were on their way to promising medical careers," McDonnell said in a statement released by the University of Arkansas Athletic Department.

"It was a total shock to our community. Robert was a talented athlete, who made countless contributions to our program. Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with their families and friends."

Meanwhile, the police department at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where Howard was a third-year medical student and his wife Dr. Robin Mitchell was chief resident in neurosurgery, released details of the deaths.

Also, Little Rock police said the 28-year-old Howard left a rambling two-page note about problems in his life but did not confess to killing Mitchell.

"It rambles on about him being sorry about screwing up his life, talks about family problems," said police spokesman Sgt. Terry Hastings.

Mitchell, 31, had been a track star and academic success in her hometown of Newburgh, N.Y., according to longtime friend Amanda Miller Bettinelli.

"She's brilliant. She was very sweet, very smart, passionate, interested in everything and very athletic," Bettinelli said.

Mitchell received an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and completed medical school at Cornell University before becoming a resident in neurosurgery at UAMS.

She and Howard knew each other just a few months before they married, said Dr. Ali Raja, a neurosurgery resident at UAMS.

UAMS police said officers found Howard in a room at the medical center early Saturday following reports of a man covered in blood and wandering the building's halls. They followed a trail of blood to the room.

"When the door was opened, they saw a black male wearing hospital scrubs and covered in blood standing inside the room. The man came toward them, slammed the door and locked it. At 1:22 a.m., the officers then heard glass breaking and furniture hitting the floor," the statement said.

The officers forced their way into the room and discovered Howard had broken a window and jumped to his death.

They later attempted to notify Howard's wife and discovered that she had not reported for her 7:30 a.m. rounds. Police found blood on the front door and doorknob of the couple's Little Rock home and discovered Mitchell's body in the couple's bedroom.

Hastings said investigators believe Howard was responsible for killing his wife.

He had been arrested in 1995 for threatening his then-girlfriend. The woman told police, "I know his temper and it is very short," according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper at Little Rock. The woman said she was afraid Howard would hurt her, and the charge against him was dropped when she decided not to pursue it.

Police records in Fayetteville, where Howard did his undergraduate work and competed for the University of Arkansas, show that Howard was arrested numerous times, including once in 1998 for allegedly pulling a gun on another man during an argument over a woman. The disposition of that charge was unclear.

No matter what problems Howard encountered in his personal life, he excelled on the track. At Arkansas, he was a 10-time NCAA champion, earning titles in the indoor and outdoor long jump and triple jump. He was third in the U.S. championships in 1997 and second in 1998.

He first made the U.S. Olympic squad in 1996 at the age of 20, making it to the triple-jump finals and finishing eighth.

Howard was accepted into medical school in 1999, but deferred a year to train for and compete in the 2000 Olympics. At Sydney, he again made the finals but again came away without a medal, placing seventh.

During a 2000 interview with The Associated Press at the Sydney Olympics, Howard talked about his acceptance to medical school.

"I want to start that part of my life, but I'm not ready yet," he said. "First, I want to jump 57-5 or 57-9 at the Games. That's what I want now."

He took last year off from school to train for the games in Athens but didn't make the team, finishing fifth in the U.S. Olympic trials.

Mike Conley, Howard's former coach at Arkansas and Howard's teammate in the 1996 Olympics, helped train Howard for this year's Olympic trials.

"I knew he was very down after he performed at the trials, but I know Robert and I don't think that this had anything to do with that," Conley said from the Olympics in Athens. "He's already been to the Olympics. He's already done a lot of things. I always advised him he needed to pursue his medical career and forget about jumping."

Because of the two years he had taken off to pursue Olympic glory, when Howard returned to school this summer he was a third-year student instead of entering his final year.

Still, he was on track to become a doctor. UAMS spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said Howard was a good student and had not come to the attention of administrators or counselors for any problems -- until early Saturday morning.

"This is the last thing you would expect from somebody like Rob, but you never know what's going on in people's lives," said Thom Spann, Howard's high school coach.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press