Lexington trial begins with son's lawyer citing years of abuse, drugs leading to mother's slaying

Mark A. Cave has been charged with murder in the death of his mother Sharon L. Cave-Howard whose decomposed body was found in a Herbie in the 2400 block of Fortune Drive February 1, 2012.
Mark A. Cave has been charged with murder in the death of his mother Sharon L. Cave-Howard whose decomposed body was found in a Herbie in the 2400 block of Fortune Drive February 1, 2012.

When Mark Adam Cave was 12 years old, his mother forced him to beat his disabled father with a bar of soap in a sock, public defender Brad Clark told a jury Monday.

"He swung it at his crippled father's legs. He saw his dad wince in pain," he said. As Cave fought back his own tears, his mother, Sharon Howard, yelled "Hit him again," Clark said.

That incident in 1996 was the first example Clark used to describe Cave's tumultuous relationship with his mother — a relationship complicated by physical and mental abuse, heavy drug use, and Howard's bipolar and anxiety disorders, he said.

Those problems came to a head in June 2011 when Cave killed his mother during a fight over prescription drugs, attorneys said. Her decomposed body was found in a Herbie trash container on Trade Center Drive on Feb. 1, 2012, about seven months later.

Cave's trial started Monday in Fayette Circuit Court.

Cave, 29, is charged with murder and tampering with physical evidence, and fraudulent use of a credit card because he cashed his mother's Social Security benefits for months after her death, prosecutors said.

It took most of the day for attorneys and Judge Kimberly Bunnell to narrow the 75-member jury pool to seven men and seven women. About 3 p.m., prosecutors and defense attorneys gave their opening statements.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Prosecutors described a wealth of evidence against Cave, including an admission of guilt to his ex-girlfriend and a confession to Lexington police.

Cave led investigators to his mother's body after he was arrested for an unrelated crime with his mother's Social Security debit card in his possession. That arrest came about a month after Cave's sister reported Howard missing.

An autopsy showed massive "blunt-force and sharp-force trauma" to Howard's head and neck, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said.

"Sharon Howard died a brutal death at the hands of this defendant, and there's no question he's the one that did it," Red Corn said.

She showed the jury a photo of what appeared to be puncture wounds near the base of Howard's skull. Of the 27 wounds found on her body, they "compromised her jugular vein, her carotid artery and her spinal cord," Red Corn said.

Clark did not deny that evidence indicated his client killed Howard. The real issue is why, he told the jury.

Cave appeared to sniffle and wipe away tears as Clark dramatically described the incident in 1996 in which Cave's mother allegedly forced him to beat his father, who was partially paralyzed by a stroke.

Clark described other incidents, including one in which Howard allegedly chased Cave with a knife.

After years of not speaking, Cave and his mother moved in together in 2006 when Howard was down on her luck, Clark said. They used drugs regularly, he said, including crack cocaine, bath salts and prescription pills.

Living together caused "codependency and a cycle of abuse," Clark said.

He and Red Corn agreed on much of what happened the day of Howard's death. Following a fight, Cave took a handful of his mother's nerve medication — 30 to 40 Klonopin — and went to bed.

He woke up a short time later to the sound of her beating on his door and screaming at him for stealing the meds, the attorneys said.

Cave told police he remembered what happened next only in flashes. He remembered fighting with his mother again, then trying to hoist her body into a dumpster but being unable to lift it, Red Corn said.

Clark told the jury that the defense's testimony would show Cave was abused and manipulated by his mother, and that drug abuse clouded the mother and son's judgment the day she was killed.

"If you understand why this happened, you will absolutely understand why this is not murder," Clark said.