Fort Worth

Aiming for another person, suspect inadvertently kills woman, police say

Brittany Howard
Brittany Howard Star-Telegram obituary photo

Robert Lawrence Willis was not happy when his ex brought another man with her for the exchange of their daughter at a gas station on May 26.

Willis, 31, confronted his ex-girlfriend’s passenger, Anthony Sanders, demanding to know who he was and why he was there, an arrest warrant affidavit says.

When Sanders began to get out of the car, Willis retrieved his handgun. He grabbed it not out of fear, he later told police, but because he “wasn’t in the mood.”

His ex and Sanders drove off without violence, but Willis admitted to police that he followed them to the Sycamore Trace Apartments, where his ex’s sister lived. There, he argued in the parking lot with his ex about why she brought another man with her to pick up their child.

He told police it was only when he saw Sanders approaching — allegedly pointing a rifle at him — that he reached into his car to grab his gun again, firing five to eight rounds in the man’s direction.

But police say he didn’t strike the man, but rather his ex’s sister, Brittany Howard, 31, who was trying to calm the situation down by getting Sanders to leave.

On Wednesday, police arrested Willis on a murder warrant, accusing him of causing Howard’s death while firing a handgun at Sanders.

As Mr. Sanders began to get closer, he stated that Brittany ran up to him and told him to just go.

Homicide Detective. M.E. Anderson wrote in an arrest warrant affidavit.

Willis was being held Thursday in the Mansfield Jail with bail set at $100,000.

Sanders not facing charges

Sanders denied ever pointing his AR-15 at Willis, according to the affidavit. He does not face charges, homicide Sgt. Joe Loughman said.

Homicide Detective M.E. Anderson said Willis’ ex initially sent her sisters to retrieve her daughter from Willis in hope of avoiding confrontations.

But Willis refused to release the girl to the sisters, Anderson said.

The ex then went to get her daughter, bringing along Sanders for support, he said.

But Willis refused to hand over his daughter to his ex after seeing she had brought another man.

Sanders told police that he got back into the car after Willis pulled the gun at the gas station. He said Willis then approached the passenger side of the car, where he was seated, and struck the window with the butt of his gun.

On arriving back at Brittany Howard’s apartment, Sanders told police, he walked to the visitors parking area to retrieve his AR-15 from his truck.

He said he got the weapon “so he could keep it inside Brittany’s apartment for protection since Mr. Willis just pulled a gun on him at the RaceTrac,” an affidavit states.

Daughter not harmed

But while walking back to Howard’s apartment with the unloaded rifle, Sanders saw Willis had come to the apartment complex and was parked behind his ex’s car, talking to his ex through the passenger-side window.

“As Mr. Sanders began to get closer, he stated that Brittany ran up to him and told him to just go. While Brittany was standing in front of him in the parking lot, he started hearing gunshots coming from the vehicle where Mr. Willis was,” the affidavit states.

Sanders told police he turned and ran back to his truck.

Willis’ ex told investigators that she snatched her daughter from her ex’s car and took the girl inside just before the shooting, Anderson said.

Willis told police he saw a red glow on top of Sanders’ rifle before he himself opened fire. He said that after shooting his gun, he jumped out of his car and saw Howard on the ground.

12 fired .40-caliber casings were recovered from inside Willis’ vehicle after the shooting, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

The affidavit states that police found an AR-15 with an optical sight that was turned on, emitting a red glow inside the scope, during a search of Sanders’ truck. But investigators found no evidence that the AR-15 was ever fired.

Inside Willis’ vehicle, police found 12 fired .40-caliber Smith & Wesson casings. His handgun has not been found, police said.

Howard was a mother of two, according to her obituary.

Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd