Clerk says he shot to save his life in robbery

One more excellent follow-up story on an occurrence that anti-gun pundits claimed would never happen...

May 18, 2004
Toledo Blade

Habib Howard's eyes never left the suspect's handgun.

The robber kept the weapon at waist level when he held up Mr. Howard's West Toledo carryout. As the man backed out of the store, he raised the gun in a threatening manner.

That's when Mr. Howard decided it was either his life or the robber's.

"Do I shoot or do I let him shoot me? I chose the first," the 23-year-old recalled yesterday, eight days after the heist at his family's gas station/carryout at Monroe Street and Upton Avenue.

Mr. Howard grabbed his 9mm semi-automatic handgun from his hip under his shirt, drew the weapon, and began firing. The robber was hit in the front left shoulder and front left leg near his groin, Toledo police Detective Paul Tetuan said.

The wounded suspect, Jose J. Custodia-Mota, 23, of Columbus, had his gun raised as he fled. Mr. Howard fired two more shots, piercing the window glass.

"I don't feel like Dirty Harry or anything like that. I did what I had to do to save my life," said Mr. Howard, who has a concealed-carry permit.

Click on the "Read More..." link below for more.

The suspect and his getaway driver, Alberto Martinez, 32, were charged with aggravated robbery. Both are being held in the Lucas County jail. Mr. Custodia-Mota was ordered held in lieu of $75,000 bond during his arraignment yesterday in Toledo Municipal Court. He declined an interview.

Detective Tetuan said the evidence and witness statements fit Mr. Howard's account of the incident May 9. The case is expected to be presented today to a Lucas County grand jury. No charges have been filed against Mr. Howard and none is anticipated, the detective said.

Workers replaced the shattered window glass as Mr. Howard talked about the incident publicly for the first time.

He said it was a normal day, and he had just relieved the stock girl. The suspect walked in, took a 12-pack of beer from a cooler, and approached the counter.

"Before I could ask for his ID, before I could say hello, he pulled a gun and demanded money. It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening," Mr. Howard said.

He said he complied with the robber's demands. He opened the register, put his hands in the air, and began to walk away, but the suspect ordered him to put the money on the counter. He followed the robber's instructions with one hand still in the air.

After he put the money on the counter, Mr. Howard said he again took a few steps with his hands raised.

But as the robber backed out of the store, pushing the door open, he raised his weapon and pointed it at Mr. Howard. With one hand in the air, Mr. Howard reached for his own gun, for which he received a permit three days before the holdup.

Mr. Howard drew his gun and began shooting.

"That was the worst feeling I've ever had," he said.

Mr. Howard, who has returned to work, said he feels for the suspects' families because he doesn't think they raised their children to commit criminal acts.

Mr. Howard said he doesn't consider himself a hero. And he'll never forget what it was like facing the barrel of the robber's gun.

"That gun will be imprinted in my mind for the rest of my life," he said.

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