Local News

Lawyer: Man to plead guilty to insurance examiner's death

Posted May 21, 2009 3:23 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2009 10:21 a.m. EDT

— The attorney for a North Carolina man accused in the slaying of a state Department of Insurance examiner says his client will plead guilty to second-degree murder.

Michael Howell, 41, of 5404 Fredrick St. in Indian Trail, pleaded guilty Thursday to 25 counts of embezzlement by an insurance agent. He was sentenced to at least 150 months in prison.

Attorney Mark P. Foster Jr. said Howell would plead guilty to killing Sallie Rohrbach as part of a plea deal on the embezzlement charges. There was no word on when the murder plea would occur.

The body of Rohrbach, 44, of Angier, was found wrapped in garbage bags in a wooded area of Fort Mill, S.C., on May 20, 2008. Authorities haven't been able to determine the cause of death.

Department of Insurance officials said Rohrbach was sent to examine the books of the Dilworth Insurance Agency when she disappeared on May 14, 2008. Howell owned the agency.

The 25 embezzlement charges represent premium payments that Howell pocketed instead of forwarding to GMAC Insurance and Discovery Insurance, officials said. Between March 2004 and May 2008, he stole more than $150,000 from clients, officials said.

Hundreds of the Dilworth Insurance Agency’s customers – many of whom were senior citizens or minorities – were affected, but GMAC and Discovery made good on every policy, so no customers lost money or insurance coverage, officials said.

Soon after Rohrbach's body was found, sources in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department told CBS affiliate WBTV that she died from blunt force trauma and that the slaying occurred inside Howell's office.

Police seized a stick from the office as possible evidence in early June, according to a search warrant. Testing produced positive results for traces of blood on a carpet and a computer cord.