A Goodyear man charged with first-degree murder in the death of his grandmother was arraigned in court in Goodyear on Wednesday.
Jason Howell, 40, is accused of killing 78-year-old Helen Lee, of Goodyear, and leaving her body in the desert near Gila Bend. She was reported missing Oct. 30 and her body was found was found Oct. 31. She was identified by the Medical Examiner's Office based on dental records.
Howell was picked up as a person of interest but that changed Nov. 2 when he became the primary suspect and he was officially charged Nov. 5 with Lee's murder and indicted Nov. 13.
Howell remains in jail on $1 million bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Howell faces additional charges, including attempted premeditated murder, hindering prosecution and concealing/abandoning a body.
Lee's body was found in an area where Howell had led detectives to find additional evidence.
Police said the cause of death and details surrounding the case are not being released at due to the ongoing investigation.
Lee was reported missing from her home the same day Howell was arrested in the theft of an SUV from a Chandler school.
Officers went to 13606 W. Holly St. in Goodyear at 4:40 p.m. after Lee's daughter, who lives in Tucson, told police she tried to reach her mother for several hours and was concerned about her whereabouts.
Howell had lived at his grandmother's home in a gated community for the past three years. Police said there was visible damage to the garage and found evidence inside that indicated possible foul play.
Police said Lee might have been killed after investigators found indications of foul play at her home and evidence in the desert about 50 miles away.
Howell climbed in a vehicle in a parking lot at Kyrene Del Cielo around 4:45 p.m. Oct. 30. A 12-year-old girl who was inside the SUV was able to jump out as Howell began to drive away, said Chandler Police Detective Seth Tyler.
A Chandler police officer spotted the stolen vehicle traveling westbound on Ray Road and tried to get him to pull over around 54th Street.
Howell initially pulled into a parking lot but then rammed the police car and drove away, Tyler said. The officer chased him over Interstate 10 and into Phoenix to 50th Street, where Howell drove into a park, Tyler said.
Howell rammed the police car a second time in the park before he was finally taken into custody. Howell faces a number of felony charges, including stealing a vehicle, aggravated assault on a police officer, felony flight from law enforcement and aggravated DUI.
Howell made his initial court appearance Nov. 1 on the theft, assault and DUI charges.
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