Fourteen months after shooting Thomas Ciancio to death, William Rex Fowler learned his fate: life in prison without parole. Fowler, 59, was found …
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Fourteen months after shooting Thomas Ciancio to death, William Rex Fowler learned his fate: life in prison without parole.
Fowler, 59, was found guilty last Friday of first-degree murder in the death of the 42-year-old Ciancio, who was killed on Dec. 30, 2009. With only one sentencing option for the crime, Adams County District Court Judge Francis Wasserman sentenced Fowler shortly after the jury returned its verdict.
Fowler was the co-founder of Fowler Software Design, the business at 8391 Delaware St. where Ciancio was shot three times in the head. Testimony indicated that Ciancio had resigned from the business in frustration in November 2009, and went to the office on the day he was killed believing he would receive a separation check.
Ciancio was killed in a basement conference room, where Fowler reportedly then turned the gun on himself in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Fowler suffered a gunshot wound through his head from bottom to top, and was hospitalized for about a month.
Fowler did not testify at his trial, and his defense called no other witnesses and presented no evidence. The defense used its opening statement and closing argument to portray the killing as the tragic and unplanned result of Ciancio arriving before his scheduled meeting time on the morning that Fowler intended to kill himself.
Prosecutor Yvette Werner ripped that theory in a closing argument. "Mr. Ciancio shows up early and what - oops, oops, oops," she said.
Fowler had plenty of time to kill himself before Ciancio's arrival, Werner said, adding: "He was going to take someone out with him."
Donation hurt firm
Testimony and attorneys' statements described Fowler Software Design as a once-thriving company that was damaged in part by Fowler's unauthorized donation of company funds to "an organization." Wasserman barred any mention of the Church of Scientology, which court documents and testimony in an earlier hearing had described as the recipient of the company's money.
Prosecutor Dave Young seized on testimony by Dr. James Wilkerson, the forensic pathologist who performed Ciancio's autopsy, that bullet trajectories were most consistent with Ciancio first being shot beside the left eye. Young held a toy gun as he approached the witness stand and demonstrated how a shooting at close range might have looked, and said in his closing argument that Fowler "looked Mr. Ciancio right in the eye as he pulled the trigger."
Gene Claps of the Adams County Sheriff's Office, the lead detective in the case, testified Thursday that a blood-spattered separation agreement bearing two signatures was found on a table in the room where Ciancio was killed, but a check register on the table showed no sign of a check written to Ciancio.
In his closing argument Friday, Young said evidence indicated Ciancio was sitting in a chair when he was shot, and added: "Mr. Fowler waited until he signed that separation agreement and took his life."
In their closing arguments, Young and Werner both emphasized the three gunshots that struck Ciancio, with Werner calling them "three decisions to kill" and Young saying: "Three gunshot wounds to the head tells you all you need to know."
In a talk with attorneys while jurors were out of the room, Wasserman agreed to allow the jury to consider a charge of second-degree murder, meaning a murder committed knowingly but not requiring intent or deliberation.
'A desperate man'
Defense attorney Sarah Quinn said in her closing argument that Ciancio's death "is a tragedy, but his death is not first-degree murder."
She said "everything (Fowler) had worked for had crumbled around him" and added: "Mr. Fowler is responsible for the death of Mr. Ciancio, but his acts were the acts of a desperate man who felt he had nothing left to live for."
Her words were similar to those of defense attorney Sara Strufing, who said in an opening statement: "On Dec. 30, 2009, Mr. Fowler hit rock bottom." His company was teetering, she said, adding: "Mr. Fowler couldn't face that realization."
In her closing argument, Quinn also attacked the testimony of Von Mark Bailey, a crime-scene investigator for the sheriff's office. Bailey had not noted in his report that when he ejected a cartridge from a handgun at the murder scene, the cartridge had fallen into a bloody trash can.
She said Bailey's decision not to document that event called into question his entire investigation. She asked: "What else did he contaminate? What else is he speculating about? What else is he wrong about?"
Despite the defense claims, the 10 women and two men on the jury found Fowler guilty of first-degree murder. Fowler declined to speak at his sentencing.
Two of Ciancio's loved ones addressed the court at the sentencing. His older brother David said Ciancio left Fowler Software Design to get away from "business practices and systems of belief that allowed theft" to be called a donation.
"Thomas was really the best of all of us," he said.
Ciancio's wife Laura wept as she addressed the court, saying her husband would never see his children's first dates and graduations, would never give away his daughters at their weddings and would never hold his grandchildren.
"Rex Fowler stole an amazing person from us," she said. She added: "I hope he never has a chance to destroy anyone else's family like he did ours."
Scott Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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