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Suspect in slaying had affair, police say.

Byline: Rebecca Nolan The Register-Guard

A 22-year-old race car driver from Springfield has been charged with the intentional murder of popular race car mechanic and former auto shop teacher Mark Lynn Howard, who was found dead inside his Eugene auto shop on Friday.

Derek Allan Ofenham told Eugene police he had been planning for three weeks to kill 50-year-old Howard in order to "get him out of the way," according to court documents.

Ofenham had been having an affair with Howard's 49-year-old wife, Janet Lynn Howard, for more than a year. He hoped to get closer to her by eliminating her husband of 20 years, police said.

Janet and Mark Howard have two daughters, ages 9 and 17.

Ofenham was arraigned Tuesday in Lane County Circuit Court on a single charge of intentional murder. He was being held in the Lane County Jail without bail.

The maximum sentence for intentional murder is life in prison.

"Jealousy and money are the two oldest motives for murder in history," Assistant Lane County District Attorney Bob Lane said after Ofenham appeared in court in a green jail jumpsuit.

Detectives continued to investigate whether anyone else had a hand in the killing. Investigators have questioned Janet Howard, but she has not been arrested, Eugene Police Sgt. Scott McKee said.

"The fact that the murderer was her boyfriend is highly suspicious," McKee said. "We are pursuing that suspicious element."

No one answered the telephone at the Howard home Tuesday.

A friend who stopped by Pro Auto Racing at 119 N. Seneca Road about 8 a.m. Friday found Howard dead inside the shop and called police.

Charging documents written by Eugene Police Detective Dan Braziel and filed in Circuit Court on Tuesday detail the case against Ofenham.

According to Braziel, police found five .22-caliber bullet casings near Howard's body, which was behind a counter about 15 feet inside the front door. An autopsy determined that he had been shot three times in the head, once in the upper torso and once in the hand.

Under questioning by detectives, Janet Howard admitted to having an affair with Ofenham. She said her husband had discovered her infidelity about two months ago, when he walked in on her and Ofenham inside the Howard home.

Braziel interviewed Ofenham at work Monday at TriSand Inc., a truck, trailer and car repair service on Danebo Street in Eugene, and later at the police department.

Ofenham repeatedly denied killing Mark Howard but later changed his story.

"After a period of time, Derek Ofenham admitted he shot Mark Howard five times with a .22-caliber rifle," Braziel wrote. "Derek Ofenham told me he shot and killed Mark Howard so he could `get him out of the way' and be closer to Janet Howard."

Ofenham told Braziel that he knocked on the front door of Pro Auto Racing about 6:45 a.m., and Mark Howard answered. He told Howard he was there to pay his bill.

Howard let Ofenham in and looked on the computer to see the younger man's balance. Ofenham then went out to his pickup truck, ostensibly to get his checkbook.

Instead, he returned with the rifle, Braziel said.

"Derek Ofenham told me he walked into the business and immediately shot Mark Howard," the detective wrote. "Mark Howard fell to the floor. Derek Ofenham told me he walked around the counter and shot Mark Howard several more times as he was trying to get up."

Ofenham then drove to work. He told the detective he threw the rifle and ammunition over a fence at TriSand. He later showed Braziel where he tossed the gun and detectives recovered it.

Ofenham said he got the rifle from a friend about two weeks ago.

He told detectives he "had been thinking about killing Mark Howard for about three weeks," Braziel wrote. "Derek Ofenham told me when he went to Mark Howard's business on Oct. 7, 2005, he intended on killing him. Derek Ofenham told me he was sorry for murdering Mark Howard."

Ofenham lives with his mother in Springfield. Sheryl Ofenham did not return messages left on her home and cellular phones Tuesday.

Friends have described Howard as a devoted father and a dedicated businessman.

"Obviously, it's a very sad situation," McKee said. "By all accounts, Mark Howard was a hardworking man. Many people described him as a workaholic. He was down there working from sun up to sun down to keep the family business running."

Janet Howard did the bookkeeping for the business. In addition to the shop, the couple owned at least two rental properties and their south Eugene home.

Police informed Janet Howard of her husband's death when she arrived at Pro Auto midmorning Friday, as she often does, McKee said.

"It appeared she was the grieving widow," he said.

Another witness confirmed that she appeared distraught at the news.
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Title Annotation:Crime; A race car driver is charged with shooting a popular mechanic to `get him out of the way'
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 12, 2005
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