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Ex-Olympian involved in murder-suicide

Man's fatal leap followed stabbing

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Robert Howard had two dreams: winning an Olympic medal and becoming a doctor.

He went far in pursuing both goals. He made the finals in the triple jump twice, in Atlanta eight years ago and again in Sydney in 2000. And he had completed two years of medical school.

Then, early Saturday, just as the 2004 Summer Games were getting underway in Athens, Howard leaped to his death -- from a dormitory next to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, dressed in blood-splattered surgical scrubs.

Police surmise the blood was that of Howard's wife, Dr. Robin Mitchell, whose body was found when officers went to notify her of her husband's death. She had been stabbed nearly 50 times.

Howard, 28, left a rambling note apologizing for his perceived failures but no mention of having killed his wife. Yet, investigators are calling the deaths a murder-suicide.

"This may be a case that we never know," Sergeant Terry Hastings said Tuesday. "Probably, the two people who can tell us are dead."

Mitchell, 31, was chief neurosurgery resident at the medical school's teaching hospital and herself a track star in her hometown of Newburgh, N.Y., about 75 miles north of New York City.

Howard was a third-year medical student whose athleticism was proven. The star athlete from Shea High School in Pawtucket, R.I., was a 10-time NCAA champion at the University of Arkansas, earning titles in the indoor and outdoor long jump and triple jump. And, he had finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in his Olympic appearances.

Police reports and newspaper accounts reveal Howard had a history of arrests. In 1995, he was arrested for threatening his then-girlfriend. The woman said she was afraid Howard would hurt her, and the charge against him was dropped when she decided not to pursue it.

In Fayetteville, where Howard did his undergraduate work, police records show he was arrested several times, including once in 1998 for allegedly pulling a gun on another man during an argument over a woman.

The disposition of that charge was unclear.

Howard was accepted into medical school in 1999 but decided to wait a year so he could devote his energy to the Sydney games.

"I want to start that part of my life, but I'm not ready yet," Howard said of medical school in a 2000 interview.

"First, I want to jump 57-5 or 57-9 at the Games. That's what I want now."

It appears Howard and Mitchell met sometime early last year at school. They were married in May 2003, school officials said, five months after she transferred from Ohio State University.

Howard decided to take another year off to train for the games in Athens. This time, though, he didn't make the team, finishing fifth in the US Olympic trials.

"I knew he was very down after he performed at the trials, but I know Robert and I don't think that this had anything to do with that," Mike Conley, who coached Howard at Arkansas and helped him train for this year's Olympic trials, said from the Olympics in Athens.

"He's already been to the Olympics. He's already done a lot of things. I always advised him he needed to pursue his medical career and forget about jumping."

Howard returned to medical school this summer and was described by spokeswoman Leslie Taylor as a good student.

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