WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — A Rhode Island man and woman who were arraigned Monday on charges connected to a Worcester teenager's disappearance were charged with his murder today in Westborough District Court.
James Howze, 19, and Lara Cori, 22, both of 37 Harvard Ave., Providence, R.I. were held without bail today after investigators discovered a body in a storage container behind an abandoned residence on Wesleyan Avenue, Providence, not far from where the two live. Medical examiners later determined the body to be that of 19-year-old Joseph P. Webster, of 104 Brattle Street, Worcester.
According to Assistant District Attorney Lisa Casella, medical examiners conducted an autopsy of the body and discovered several injuries, leading them to rule the death a homicide.
Webster, who was missing since since March 13, was diabetic and autistic. Investigators believe that he, Howze and Cori were together in Room 214 of the Motel 6 on Route 9 in Northborough on the night of Webster's disappearance.
Video surveillance from the motel shows that the three entered the building at around 11 p.m. that night. At 12:15 a.m., Howze was seen leaving the hotel and moving Webster's Cadillac to the rear of the building. Later, at 12:53 a.m., they were seen driving away in the car, only to return in two hours to collect various items before leaving again.
Police began investigating the motel after Webster's family reported him missing on March 14. On March 16, they found a shovel and a damaged window screen in Room 214; on March 18, they found that the room's rug was discolored in several places. This was later determined to be blood, which was found on the carpet, near the window and on the exterior wall of the motel below the window.
Later, a witness in Rhode Island told police that Howze and Cori allegedly tried to sell a Cadillac matching the description of Webster's car for $2,000. Howze allegedly told the witness that the car was "hot," and that he had "poked" (stabbed) the victim after the victim robbed Cori.
The two were arrested on March 21, at which time Howze was allegedly in possession of a bloody shoe.
Police in Cranston, R.I. received the tip that led them to Webster's body on April 3, said Tim Connolly, Worcester District Attorney spokesman.
Casella asked for both Howze and Cori to be held without bail, citing the seriousness of the charges against them and their alleged flight from the state.
Michael Erlich, Cori's defense attorney, asked for $100,000 bail, saying she had no criminal history. He also mentioned her difficult upbringing.
"When she was entered into the Department of Children and Families in Rhode Island," he said. From there, Erlich said, Cori ended up in an abusing foster home, until she was adopted at the age of 10. She also has an auditory processing disorder, he said. Erlich added that, according to the evidence, it appears that Cori was not the one who struck the fatal blow on Webster.
Mary June Ciresi, Howze's defense attorney, asked for $500,000 bail, with the condition that a third party be responsible for his court appearance, that he will adhere to a curfew and that he will hold employment. She added that Howze's family, who were present in the courtroom, supported him and would ensure his return.
Both bail requests were denied.
Upon being led out of the courtroom, Howze called out to his family. "I love you guys!" he said.
Howze and Cori will next return to court on May 2.
After the arraignment, Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early, Jr. commended all the police involved in the case, in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
"We've all be working together to get us to the point we're at now," Early said. "I can't say enough about the good police work in this case."
Early, however, declined to comment about any specific details. "We really have to let this play out in court," he said.
Though members of Webster's family asked not to be interviewed, two friends of the family spoke out after the arraignment. Michael and Emily, who asked not to share their last name, said they had known the family for over a decade.
"I can't put it into words how much it hurts," Emily said.
"He was such a great kid," Michael said.
"He was a kid who sat in his father's barbershop and didn't hang out on the streets, because he wanted to be a barber," Emily said.