North Carolina man convicted by guilty plea 24 years after cold case sexual assault in DeKalb County

Courtney Howe, 50, identified in 1997 attack by positive DNA match


DECATUR, GA–DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston announced a conviction by guilty plea in the sexual assault cold case against Courtney Howe, 50. During court proceedings last Friday, Howe pleaded guilty as indicted to charges of Rape, Aggravated Sodomy, Kidnapping, Aggravated Assault, Burglary and Theft by Taking, in connection with the attack of a 35-year-old female victim in her home 24 years ago.

The incident happened on May 10, 1997 at a home on Harts Mill Road in Atlanta. The victim awoke in the middle of the night and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. When she arrived in the kitchen, Howe appeared wielding a knife. The victim screamed while Howe pushed her to the ground and tied her wrists, then forced her to her bedroom where he raped and sodomized her. After the assault, he rummaged through the victim’s belongings and fled in her vehicle.

The case sat cold until Howe was identified as a suspect in May 2020 following a positive DNA match to the sexual assault kit that was collected at the time of the crime. He was identified through the investigative work of the Georgia Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (GASAKI) Task Force with assistance from the DeKalb County Police Department.

Howe was taken into custody in North Carolina in May 2020 and was transferred to DeKalb County in June 2020. The case was presented to a Grand Jury on May 7, 2021.

Following his guilty plea, Howe was sentenced by DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Shondeana C. Morris to a negotiated plea of 20 years to serve 15 years in custody.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Agatha Romanowski, with assistance from DA/SAKI Investigator Crispin Henry, and Victim Advocate Julie Varnado. Detective James McCracken, who is retired from the DeKalb County Police Department, handled the initial investigation in 1997; Detective Kelly, also now retired, assisted after the DNA match.

About the Georgia Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Task Force (GASAKI)

The GASAKI Task Force was created in partnership with the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) in 2018 as part of a multi-year, multi-million dollar federal grant under the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. The Task Force addresses the downstream investigations and prosecutions of cold case sexual assaults that have resulted from testing of previously untested sexual assault kits or any cold case sexual assault.

The team consists of prosecutors, investigators, and victim advocates from the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, the Atlanta Police Department, the Prosecuting Attorneys Council (PAC), and CJCC (with resources from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department and Live Safe), working collaboratively to solve cold case sexual assault crimes.

Additionally, the GASAKI Task Force relies on the ongoing work and commitment of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab to test backlogged Sexual Assault Kits.


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