“He stabbed her,” Isiah Fowler said between sniffs and sobs, describing an intruder and his sister in a 911 call recorded in April 2013. “She’s like dead.”
When a 911 operator asked if Isiah’s sister Leila was breathing, he answered, “No, she’s not.”
The 911 operator asked where the stab wounds were and Isiah answered, “All over her. … There’s blood everywhere.”
The shaking, quaking voice of Isiah, 12 years old when he made the call, was played back Tuesday in Calaveras County Superior Court, where a prosecutor and defense attorney gave opening statements in the retrial of Isiah Fowler, whose second-degree murder conviction in the death of his 8-year-old sister was overturned by three appeals court judges in February this year.
In the 911 call recorded the day of the murder, adults arrived and shouts of “Oh my god!” rang out repeatedly, punctuated by piercing screams.
“Get an ambulance!” Isiah told the 911 operator.
The defendant, now 17, sat still Tuesday between his defense attorney and a defense investigator, facing Judge Susan C. Harlan. He wore a gray, short-sleeve polo shirt with a collar. His shoulder-length brown hair was drawn back in a ponytail. A few feet behind him, his stepmother, Crystal Fowler, cringed as she heard the nightmarish recording from more than five years ago. His father, Barney Fowler, sat listening as well.
“That’s the second time I’ve heard it,” Crystal Fowler said later outside the courtroom. “Now you’ve heard the most horrific day of our lives.”
Law enforcement never found the intruder Isiah spoke of. He’s been held in secure juvenile facilities ever since his arrest in May 2013.
Isiah Fowler is being retried this week and next in San Andreas. Because it’s a retrial, Harlan plans to spend the next two days reading from more than 2,700 pages of transcripts from the 2015 trial. Dana Pfeil, the prosecutor, Mark Reichel, the defense attorney, and Isiah Fowler are expected back in court at 8:30 a.m. Friday, and again at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday next week, when both sides hope to make their closing statements.
Asked if it feels like double jeopardy to see her stepson’s conviction overturned and to now see him being retried, Crystal Fowler said, “Not really. I feel like we’re starting over from day one. We never thought he did it from the beginning.”
According to Pfeil’s opening statements, the prosecution contends Isiah Fowler is guilty in his sister’s stabbing death because there was blood on a Ghostbusters T-shirt found at the scene and the blood matched Leila Fowler’s DNA, and because neighbors nearby saw nothing suspicious the day of the murder, and because searches conducted by two cadaver dog handlers and by search-and-rescue personnel and by a California Highway Patrol helicopter crew found no traces of a blood trail or bloody weapons anywhere outside the Fowler home.
District Attorney Barbara Yook, who sat with Pfeil throughout proceedings Tuesday, said Pfeil would not be able to comment further on a pending case.
Reichel’s opening statements indicate the defense attorney plans to focus on the lack of any motive for a young boy suddenly killing his sister, and on what evidence shows Isiah Fowler actually did and did not do before and after his sister was stabbed more than 20 times, and that investigators found no evidence of anyone cleaning up from a bloody murder inside the Fowler home.
“There’s theory in the people’s presentation of evidence,” Reichel told Harlan. “But science shows things do not fit. Evidence will not explain why. Sitting here he’s been incarcerated five years. There’s no hint to motive, cause or reason why.”
Reichel emphasized to Harlan that it’s important to envision what the young Isiah Fowler went through on the day of his sister’s murder back in April 2013. To a 12-year-old boy who had just made pancakes and watched a movie with his sister, being in a bathroom and hearing an intruder and his sister’s screams, this had to be surreal, unimaginable and confusing.
The 911 call played back Tuesday by the prosecution shows Isiah is innocent, Reichel said.
“You can’t fake the sobbing, the trembling,” Reichel said. “It’s not possible to fake terror like that. The bottom line is, our story fits the science and the people’s doesn’t.”
Reichel told Harlan he plans to call at least two defense witnesses who were not interviewed in the first trial. Reichel said they are both firefighters who were among the first responders to the murder, and their testimony is relevant for their descriptions of the death scene.
Three judges with the California 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled a juvenile court had inappropriately relied on statements made by Isiah Fowler in interviews with investigators employed by the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The appellate court judges said the boy was not adequately advised of his Miranda rights. Furthermore, the judges said, his father’s participation in interviews may have contributed to inconsistent statements the juvenile court judge used as basis for the guilty verdict in 2015.
Judge Thomas A. Smith found Isiah Fowler guilty of second degree murder on Oct. 6, 2015. That trial lasted 17 days. Fowler was sentenced about a month later to remain in custody until he was 23 years old.
Leila Fowler was taken by ambulance to Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas, where she was pronounced dead. Leila Fowler was stabbed more than 20 times.
Her death made national news headlines and broadcasts, and it prompted a manhunt for the intruder, described as a 6-foot-tall man with a muscular build and shoulder-length gray hair.
An area resident said she saw the intruder but recanted when the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office asked her to help with a sketch.
On May 11, 2013, Sheriff Gary Kuntz announced that Isiah Fowler had been arrested as a suspect in the death of his sister.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.