Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 27, 2014

Shooting suspect's children no longer in her care

TRAVERSE CITY — A woman suspected in a fatal Long Lake Township shooting has at least temporarily lost custody of her two children who were present during the incident.

Nicole Mitchell, 27, is scheduled to appear Monday for a hearing in 13th Circuit Court's family division.

The hearing follows Children's Protective Services officials' petition to temporarily take Mitchell's daughters, ages 7 and 2, from her care as detectives investigate her role in the late March 21 shooting death of Roger Rex Howard, 29.

Mitchell's court-appointed attorney David Grunst called the hearing a "status conference" in an ongoing abuse and neglect case that won't determine Mitchell's parental rights. He said those likely won't be affected unless she faces criminal charges in Howard's death.

"I believe my client when she says that this was an accident that happened," he said. "If this is truly a self-defense case, which is what it sounds like, I don't think charges should could come out of it."

Documents filed with the 13th Circuit Court's family division include new details about Howard's death in Mitchell's Black Bear Drive condominium. It states Mitchell said the shooting followed an argument over Howard "using heroin again."

"It is not known if the argument was about Roger using heroin in general, or if it was about Roger using heroin in the home on that night," the document states.

Mitchell told Howard to leave, but he refused and she retrieved her Ruger handgun from the master bedroom where a child slept, according to the documents. The gun "accidentally went off" and shot Howard in the upper chest after he grabbed it, Mitchell told authorities.

"It is believed that the child was within 5 feet of where Nicole and Roger were wrestling over the gun," the document states.

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