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Man Charged With Murder in UConn Stabbing

Updated at 1:58 p.m. Eastern time

Police have charged a Connecticut man with the murder of a University of Connecticut football player outside a school-sanctioned dance, but his lawyer says he was just trying to break up a fight.

Two others also were charged in the fight that led to the death of 20-year-old Jasper Howard, of Miami.

John William Lomax III, 21, of Bloomfield, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with murder, police said. His bond was set at $2 million.

Police would not discuss evidence or a motive during a news conference Tuesday. More than 40 investigators conducted more than 200 interviews and "have not stopped working," UConn police chief Robert Hudd said.

Police say they also charged 20-year-old Hakim Muhammad, of Bloomfield, with conspiracy to commit assault, and 21-year-old Jamal Todd with pulling a fire alarm that emptied the Oct. 18 dance, triggering the fight.

Lomax, who is not a UConn student and lives 30 miles from campus, wasn't present when the argument started and doesn't know what it was about, but tried to break up the fight, said his attorney, Deron Freeman.

"He was just partying," Freeman said. "Often people from out of town go to the UConn campus to party."

Freeman said he was first told that Lomax would be charged in connection with the fight that led to Howard's death, but not with murder.

"I'm surprised," Freeman said. "I'm curious to find out what evidence they had to secure an arrest warrant for murder. ... From all the evidence I've heard, he was not involved in the stabbing."

Howard, a starting cornerback whose nickname was Jazz, outside a university-sanctioned dance, hours after helping his team to a homecoming game win over Louisville.

The entire UConn team attended his funeral Monday in Miami, where Howard was eulogized by coach Randy Edsall as "the ultimate son, he was the ultimate brother. He was the ultimate teammate. He was the ultimate friend. They didn't come any better than Jazz."

UConn football players said they were happy that an arrest was made, but that it was of little comfort.

"It is a little closure, but the reality is my teammate's still not here with us," said running back Jordan Todman.

An athletics department spokesman said Edsall did not plan to make any public statements on the arrests Tuesday.

Lomax has had a full-time job in the information technology field for the past two years and is a graduate of Bloomfield High School, Freeman said.

A fourth man, Johnny Hood, 21, of Hartford, was arrested last week and faces charges of breach of peace and interfering with police but also is not charged in the killing.

Police this weekend searched storm drains and a lake on campus near the area of the stabbing but wouldn't say what they were looking for.

Bloomfield Police Capt. Jeffrey Blatter refused to say whether the department helped in the investigation, and referred questions to university police.

At Monday's funeral, hundreds of mourners heard words describing Howard as talented, yet humble, and loving at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Miami.

"He was someone who had a tremendous heart, and for the people here in this community, and for the family, he was on track for greatness," said Huskies coach Randy Edsall, his voice at times wavering. "He was going to graduate. He was going to have his degree. He was doing everything to make himself the best student, the best person and the best athlete that he could be."

It was Edsall who called Howard's mother to tell her of her first-born's death and the coach identified Howard's body.

More coverage of Howard's death from the Crimesider blog

Slideshow: Slain UConn Player Jasper Howard
Stabbed UConn Player Remembered in Miami
Slain UConn Football Player Inspires Emotion
Stabbed UConn Player Named Unborn Child Night Before He Was Killed
University Mourns Jasper Howard

"I can't describe (my feelings) right now, but I'm going to make it," Howard's mother, JoAngila, said at the cemetery. "I'm hurting, but I'm going to make it."

Edsall was among those who stood in praise of Howard at his funeral, along with UConn players, friends and former coaches, including Corey Bell, the director of football operations at the University of Miami.

"He was the ultimate son, he was the ultimate brother," Edsall said. "He was the ultimate teammate. He was the ultimate friend. They didn't come any better than Jazz."

Howard's teammate and wide receiver Kashif Moore told mourners, "Jazz loved to have fun, make people laugh. He had a good strong heart. I think he got that from his mother."

The UConn football team arrived at the church in white buses, many players staying stone-faced throughout the day. They shuffled quietly inside, each picking up a single white rose with a blue ribbon along the way.

"Jazz would never back down from a challenge. That's how Jazz was. ... Jazz had a lot of swag," Moore said.

Edsall said he's coached special young men in his 30 years and that Howard was "right there at the top."

"He had that smile, he had that charisma," Edsall said. "He could make me mad, you know? Especially when he tried to catch those punts over the shoulder. But he was always trying to make a play."

Howard, who wore jersey No. 6, averaged 11.8 yards per punt return last season to lead the Big East, according to the UConn Web site.

Just hours before he was killed, the junior had a career-high 11 tackles on Oct. 17 and made perhaps the game's biggest play, forcing a fumble as Louisville was about to score with UConn up 21-13 in the third quarter. UConn won 38-25, but lost in an emotionally charged game Saturday to No. 22 West Virginia 28-24. Through six games, Howard had 35 tackles.

Some members of Howard's family, including his mother, wore pale blue clothes that matched the lining of Howard's dark blue casket. He was dressed in a light blue suit and had on a pair of gray and blue football gloves.

Howard's casket, covered in red roses, was closed after the ceremony began. It was taken to the cemetery in a horse-drawn glass hearse, and he was interred in the bottom corner of a tan mausoleum. Friends and family surrounded the casket as it was pushed inside the vault. Some left flowers afterward and others stopped to snap pictures.

Howard's mother did not speak at the funeral, nor did his pregnant girlfriend, Daneisha Freeman. A letter to Howard from Freeman was included in the service program, however, as were pictures of the couple together.

"I know you may not be here physically, but you will always live in me and our daughter," the letter read. "It hurts me so much to know that Ja'Miya will never have the chance to meet her father."

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