“He’s a coward,” said Tom Zaffer after Bishop Howard pleaded guilty to the murder of his son and one other man. “He pleaded so he didn’t have to be put to death.”
Howard killed 45-year-old Eric Zaffer and 61-year-old Farris Jones last summer.
Jones was the first victim, attacked by Bishop in his Carlisle Township home in July 2015. A friend found the body, which had been savagely beaten with a baseball bat and covered in broken eggs.
Less than a month later, Howard fatally shot Eric Zaffer with a rifle, then robbed his Brighton Township home and set it on fire.
In a deal announced Dec. 14 in the Lorain Court of Common Pleas, Howard pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, abuse of a corpse, breaking and entering, receiving stolen property, and tampering with evidence.
He will avoid the death penalty but will serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole. As part of the plea deal, Howard waived his rights to any future motions to withdraw his plea, the pursuit of any direct appeal or challenge of the sentence, and seeking clemency or any reduction of the sentence.
The other men allegedly involved in Zaffer’s murder — Trevor White and Ryan Crews — await their own hearings.
A 14-year-old juvenile who’s connected in Jones’ death has already been sentenced to two years in the Ohio Department of Youth Services.
According to Zaffer family members present in the courtroom during the plea, Bishop, after giving a lengthy apology to his own family, was reluctant to show any remorse to the families of the victims, or even face them until pressured to by Judge John Miraldi.
He then gave a brief apology that came off as insincere and without remorse, said Carol Zaffer, Eric Zaffer’s mother.
“All I can speak on is what his demeanor said to me,” she said. “I thought it was terrible. Through the whole trial, he just seemed restless and like he wanted to get on with the rest of his day. I don’t feel like he showed any compassion. What he did say he only said because he had to.”
Bishop’s grandmother made a point of approaching the victim’s family to offer an apology.
“The mother and the father never offered any sort of apology,” said Carol Zaffer. “What the grandmother said to my daughter was good. I think it was hard for her to believe her grandson was that bad, but he was.”
She recalled learning of her son’s death: “It was horrible,” she said. “I get a ring at the doorbell at 7 a.m. The police tell me our farmhouse in Wellington is burning down. My first thought was that my son is in that house. I asked if he was all right and the officer didn’t know. My husband drove out there by himself and then called me when they were taking Eric’s body out, charred.”
Teresa Walker, Eric Zaffer’s sister, said her family was against Bishop receiving the death penalty because they did not want to play a part in another family losing a son.
“I wouldn’t have been able to sleep that night knowing we put someone on death row to be executed,” she said. “We wanted life without parole. Hopefully one day, he’ll see what he did to our family. His family has to live with the fact that he committed two cold-blooded murders.”
“I know how hard it is every day of my life that my brother is gone,” she said. “I can’t forget it. He’s on my mind so many times a day. I wake up thinking of him. I go to bed thinking of him. When I’m not focusing at work, I’m thinking of him. To know that could happen to another family, where I sent him to be executed, it’s not fair to them. They didn’t do this.”
“My brother had a heart of gold. There’s not many people you talk to who aren’t ever negative about other people. He could find something good about anyone and be annoyed when he heard others speaking negatively. He gave and he gave and didn’t ask for anything in return,” she said.
Tom Zaffer said the family also felt that a life sentence would be harder for Bishop as opposed to the death penalty.
“He would be better off being put to death than spending the rest of his life in a hard case prison,” he said. “I hope he lives to be 110 so he can suffer misery for another 90 years.”
“We have nothing but good memories of our son,” he said. “He was a kindhearted kid. We had so many people come to the funeral and say how he gave them money and never asked for a penny back. He was just a good kid.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Courtesy photos Eric Zaffer (pictured) and Farris Jones were murdered by Bishop Howard in the summer of 2015. Howard pleaded guilty to the charges Dec. 14 at the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.