Nocona man sentenced to 30 years for sexual exploitation of missing boy

Ricky Dale Howard was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
Ricky Dale Howard was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.(Wichita County Jail)
Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 1:32 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - Ricky Dale Howard was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison on Wednesday morning, a victory in a shocking case that has spanned almost a decade.

U.S. District Judge Reed C. O’Connor gave the 59-year-old the maximum sentence for sexual exploitation of a minor. Howard had pleaded guilty to the charge in July, just hours after the court declared a mistrial due to juror injury.

A Nocona native, Howard had been named a personal of interest in the 2015 disappearance of a local 18-year-old. His sentence on Wednesday was for preying on the boy when he was a minor.

Before the court declared a mistrial, prosecutors said that law enforcement had found sexually explicit images on Howard’s computers that appeared to show Howard sexually abusing the high school senior, who was reported missing on April 1, 2015 -- just two weeks after his eighteenth birthday.

Two years after his disappearance, his mother had found a small tape recorder hidden in the back of a bathroom cabinet, which had audio of Howard asking himself polygraph questions about his sexual interest in young boys. The discovery spurred new insight in the investigation, and an officer remembered seeing several incinerated computers in a burn pit on Howard’s property a few days into the initial search. Law enforcement was able to obtain the computers from Howard’s ex-wife and daughter, and multiple people identified the missing victim in redacted versions of the photographs extracted from the computers.

Prosecutors alleged that Howard had been grooming the boy from a young age. The boy’s mother testified during the trial that Howard’s family had been close with hers as her children grew up, and that her son had begun performing odd jobs for Howard during middle school.

“The vast majority of sexually exploited children were victimized by an adult they know and trust – and the young man in this case was no different. While we may never know what happened to him in the moments before his disappearance, we know he spent many months enduring the unthinkable,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham.  “We continue to pray that one day, he will be found. In the meantime, we hope today’s sentence brings a measure of solace to the family and friends who loved him. We are proud to put this sexual predator behind bars.”

“My family is broken, I know we will never have a gathering where there isn’t a sense of wrongness and of a huge, important part being missing,” the boy’s mother testified at Howard’s sentencing. “It has now been almost seven years since [my son] disappeared. Years of searching, waiting, and praying for answers to get to this day – and still to not truly have the answer our hearts require. But I am so thankful to the investigators and prosecutors for not giving up and at least making sure that Ricky Howard can hurt no one else.”

According to a statement released by the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office, Wichita Falls Resident Agency, the Montague County Sheriff’s Office, and the Nocona Police Department conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Montague County District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Rangers. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandie Wade and Nancy Larson prosecuted the case.

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