Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Public safety

Documents provide details of relationship between Apollo Beach counselor and ex-con

TAMPA — Sarah Hughey was a 49-year-old mental health counselor, a wife with a canal-front house in Apollo Beach.

Arthur Howard was a 29-year-old ex-con, a muscular man whom Hughey called her "king."

Because of her, a bullet is lodged in his right shoulder, next to a tattoo: Love is pain.

They met in December 2010. He was about to get out of prison. She was his counselor. A month later, he says, they started meeting for sex.

Eight months later, she shot him.

She claims self-defense. He says she was aiming to kill.

Authorities eventually charged Hughey, the counselor, with aggravated battery, and court documents released last week in preparation for Hughey's trial provide new details on the pair's relationship.

Much of it is attributed to Howard and two other former federal inmates on probation. The only person who denies an affair is Hughey.

In an interview with detectives on Oct. 17, 2011 — the day of the shooting — Hughey said all her meetings with Howard were professional.

"I need you to be honest," one detective said.

A fellow investigator, he said, had seen text messages on Howard's phone that pointed to an intimate relationship.

Hughey asked for an attorney.

• • •

For one long summer, Hughey took care of Howard.

She spent $20,000 on a truck, rims, a sound system and other features for a 2004 Dodge Ram. He had access to her credit card. Records show thousands of dollars in purchases made in Clearwater, where Howard lived.

Hughey's husband never noticed. She handled their finances.

Daily, text messages whizzed between Howard and Hughey's cell phones. Texts from the counselor's phone are the most affectionate.

July 7: "Baby. I love the way u love me."

July 13: "I am proud of u baby. U r my love and my life."

Aug. 8: "U r my life. Tattooed on my heart. Forever."

Aug. 16: "Put ur whites from washer to dryer."

She reminded him to take the trash out and suggested he thaw the chicken in his freezer so she could cook it for him.

On Sept. 29, she paid his bail on an accessory after the fact charge.

"Baby, you're coming to get me, right?" he asks in a recorded jail phone call.

"You know I do all the work for you," she says.

He laughs. "I already know, baby."

Around other federal probationers, acquaintances of both Hughey and Howard through Goodwill's Hillsborough County Residential Re-entry Center, the pair didn't hide their relationship.

Two men — Marc Hart and Brandon Graham — told detectives it was apparent the two were "boyfriend and girlfriend."

Howard didn't work but spent a lot of time at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

"He's well off because of her," Graham told detectives.

He recalls Howard once saying: "I've got the white lady. I'm a made man."

Hughey's attorney, John Fitzgibbons, said last week that he doesn't want to get into the details of the case until the trial, and declined to confirm or refute statements in the court documents.

"Mr. Howard has said a lot of things," Fitzgibbons said, "and we will leave it up to the jury to evaluate if he is being truthful or not."

• • •

On Oct. 17, 2011, Hughey put a 9mm handgun in a Cole Haan purse and took it to work.

She was expecting Howard, she told the office building's receptionist, and anticipated a confrontation.

Howard arrived in the afternoon and walked into her office.

From that point, their accounts diverge.

According to the counselor: Howard arrived at the office to pick up his case file because she wasn't going to be treating him anymore. When they were alone in her office, he demanded money, lunged at her and shoved her.

What were you feeling the moment before you shot? the detective asked.

"If I don't take action, he is going to hurt me or kill me," she said.

According to Howard: He arrived at the office to get his apartment key and passwords to his bank account. He had a girlfriend and wanted to break things off with Hughey. This was a step toward separation.

When they were alone in the office, he says, she dropped the keys on the floor.

"She tried to get me to bend down so she could shoot me in the head," Howard recounted later, from a hospital bed.

He didn't bend down.

But by the time he looked up again, Hughey had lifted her purse.

With the gun still inside, she pulled the trigger.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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