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Defendant James Howard enters a plea of not guilty during his arraignment at the Athens Court of Common Pleas on Wednesday. 

Former OU student who allegedly assaulted Bird Arena employee pleads not guilty

James Howard's attorney said Howard didn't intend to go on a "rampage" and "wants to go live in the woods by himself and try to find himself."

A former Ohio University student who attempted to purchase a firearm after allegedly assaulting a university employee entered a plea of not guilty on all counts Wednesday.

The former student, James D. Howard, had been indicted on counts of burglary, aggravated burglary, tampering with records and having weapons under disability on March 28 by the Athens County Grand Jury, according to a previous Post report.

Howard allegedly assaulted an employee at Bird Arena on OU's campus March 21, according to a previous Post report. At his arraignment Wednesday, the court mentioned no charges of assault.

Later on March 21, he attempted to purchase a firearm from a gun store in Logan, but the store's owner felt something was wrong and refused to sell to him, according to a previous Post report.

Hocking County Sheriff’s Office personnel arrested Howard with assistance from the Logan Police Department at the Wal-Mart in Logan, where he was allegedly trying to purchase ammunition, according to a previous Post report. Authorities found a rifle inside his car in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North said Downs may have prevented Howard from committing a mass shooting, but OUPD Chief Andrew Powers said there was no proof that those were Howard’s intentions, according to a previous Post report. Powers later sent a campus-wide email March 25 saying the community should avoid speculation about the incident.

At Howard's arraignment Wednesday, his attorney, Thomas Gerken, said Howard had not intended harm to the campus community and expressed shock at the amount of press coverage the case had received.

“It’s been blown out of proportion quite a bit,” Gerken said. “There were items found in his car that indicated he was going to live in the woods, items that didn’t make sense that he was going to go on this rampage that’s been (reported) in the press.”

Howard was a "good student" and has a four-year-old son, Gerken said.

“At the time all this went down … he was upset,” Gerken said. “He had some anger issues. I just don’t get it. He’s not a danger to anyone except perhaps himself. He wants to go live in the woods by himself and try to find himself.”

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Gerken requested Howard be bonded out to his parents in Youngstown, Ohio, adding that his mother was “really worried about him.”

Assistant Athens County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Driscoll requested a continuance of the initial $100,000 bond, saying that Howard did pose a threat.

“I believe that shows he was actually planning to go forward with what he was doing, that he was planning to go live in the woods,” Driscoll said. “That would make sense if he was going to go on a rampage. So the state believes that he is a danger, given the nature of the offenses and the allegations. The evidence is very strong in this case.”

Judge Patrick Lang ordered a continuance of the initial bond and scheduled a pretrial appearance on May 5 and an initial jury trial date of June 14.


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