No Death Penalty in North Carolina Insurance Investigator’s Death

July 21, 2008

An insurance agency owner charged with killing a North Carolina Department of Insurance employee investigating his business won’t face the death penalty, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors didn’t explain the July 17 decision revealed during a court hearing for Michael Howell, 40, who is charged with murder in the May slaying of Sallie Rohrbach, 44.

The victim’s husband, Tim Rohrbach, said prosecutors told him they believe Howell probably snapped and they would have trouble proving “the murder was premeditated.”

Rohrbach said he learned of prosecutors’ decision when he met with them before the hearing.

“I was surprised … but I’m comfortable with their decision. I’m OK with what they did,” he said.

Several telephone messages left for Assistant District Attorney Marsha Goodenow were not returned. Howell’s attorney, Mark Foster Jr., said his client was relieved to hear the decision.

At first, Tim Rohrbach said he wanted prosecutors to seek the death penalty. But after learning more about Howell’s life, he’s not so sure anymore. He believes Howell didn’t plan to kill his wife.

“The thing that convinced me was that he had no prior record, no prior history of doing anything wrong and that kind of tells me that he did just snap,” he said.

Rohrbach was reported missing two days after arriving in Charlotte from Raleigh to investigate Howell’s Dilworth Insurance Agency. Rohrbach’s body was found several days later in a remote wooded area near Fort Mill, S.C.

A search warrant later indicated that Howell was under investigation for possibly embezzling from his clients.

Howell told police that Rohrbach left his office about 4 p.m. May 14 and he hadn’t seen her since, according to an affidavit. Rohrbach’s car was found four days later in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant about a half mile from Howell’s office.

Police found blood when they searched Howell’s business with his permission. He withdrew his consent when detectives wanted to search his car, so police obtained a search warrant for the car and office.

Authorities haven’t said how Rohrbach was killed.

Howell was being held in the Mecklenberg County Jail on July 17. His next court hearing is scheduled Aug. 14.

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