Software Firm Founder Faces Murder Trial
Judge: Defendant's Scientology Ties Irrelevant In Ex-Partner's Slaying
Alan Gathright, 7NEWS Content Producer
POSTED: 12:42 pm MST February 22, 2011
UPDATED: 11:15 pm MST February 22, 2011
BRIGHTON, Colo. --
The murder trial starts Wednesday morning for an Adams County software firm founder accused in the 2009 execution-style shooting of his former business partner.
William Rex Fowler is charged with first-degree murder. He's accused of shooting Thomas Ciancio, 42, three times in the head with a 9mm Glock handgun when Ciancio came to collect a $9,000 severance payment at Fowler Software Design in Adams County on Dec. 30, 2009.
Fowler, 58, has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
Revelations that Fowler, who goes by Rex, was a devoted minister in the Church of Scientology, a controversial faith, popular among some Hollywood film stars, soon went viral on the Internet as church critics began chronicling the murder case online. A Google search for “Rex Fowler” and “Scientology” produces 294,000 Internet references to the murder case.
However, the presiding judge ruled last week that Fowler's views on Scientology won't be on trial.
"Someone's religion has never been an issue in my courtroom, and it won't be in this case," Adams County District Judge Francis Wasserman said during a pretrial hearing, according to the Denver Post.
Witnesses have said Ciancio was upset that Fowler had funneled up to $250,000 from the company to the Church of Scientology. Fowler apologized in writing to company employees for the money diversion, according to an arrest affidavit.
Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin Wednesday morning. Jury selection was completed Tuesday.
During the Feb. 16 pretrial hearing, prosecutors asked Wasserman if he was going to question prospective jurors about their knowledge of the Church of Scientology.
Wasserman said he would not, noting Fowler's conduct, which may have led to Ciancio's death, is the key issue of the case, not Scientology, the Post reported.
"Why he gave the money to the church is no concern," Wasserman said. "Whether he gave because he likes their buildings or whether he likes Tom Cruise, is not the issue," the judge added, referring to the movie star and well-known Scientologist.
It may be challenging for the judge to banish all references to Scientology from the trial.
Both Fowler and his wife, Janet, a fellow Scientologist and co-founder of the software firm, raised the issue of their church before and after the shooting, according to court records.
The case has been marked by stunning revelations ever since heavily armed SWAT officers surrounded the software office building after the shooting, unsure whether a "gunman" was barricaded inside.
During the initial confusion, Ciancio, the former chief operating officer at the firm, was called the "suspect" by law enforcement officials after SWAT officers found his body in the building near the lone gun.
Investigators initially believed that Fowler was the workplace shooting "victim," because he staggered bleeding from the office building with a gunshot wound to the head.
In a stunning turnabout 24 hours after the shooting, authorities said Ciancio was the homicide victim after an autopsy showed he'd been shot repeatedly in the head as he apparently sat at a table near Fowler's personal office.
Fowler was shot once; the single bullet was fired beneath his chin and exited the top of his head, according to the arrest affidavit.
Prosecutors have argued in court papers that "Mr. Fowler's injuries may have been self-inflicted" with the same gun used to kill Ciancio.
References to Scientology cropped up repeatedly in Fowler's 11-page arrest affidavit. The Church of Scientology was founded in the 1950s by the late science fiction author, L. Ron Hubbard.
Read the William Rex Fowler arrest affidavit.
The day after Ciancio was killed, detectives went to a hospital where Fowler remained in critical condition and spoke with his wife.
"Janet Fowler stated William Fowler is a Sciencetologist (sic) and that William Fowler would have not gone without a fight," the affidavit said. "Janet Fowler stated William Fowler probably would have grabbed the gun during the struggle and that William Fowler would have not just let somebody shoot him."
The wife told investigators she had an urgent concern as her husband lay in the intensive care unit.
"Janet Fowler quickly demanded the briefcase" containing information about Scientology that detectives had removed from Rex Fowler's office, the affidavit stated.
"One thing I need is his briefcase," Janet Fowler told detectives, the affidavit said. "It was taken out of his office. It is important to me, my church, and it is religious material and I want it now!"
Rex Fowler had left a note dated the day of the shooting instructing whoever found it to "please give the briefcase to Jan," the affidavit said. Another note, found on Fowler's work desk along with several keys, explained to "Jan" what each key unlocked.
Sheriff's Detective Gene Claps explained to Janet Fowler that investigators needed to review the briefcase contents.
"Even if you looked at it and read it, you would not understand anything in it," the wife replied, according to the affidavit. "Because it is way above a normal person and you would not know what it meant."
"Janet Fowler then demanded the briefcase be returned again, by saying, 'I want it back now, right now!' " the affidavit said.
he wife eventually agreed to speak with the investigators after a detective explained that he just needed some background on her husband.
She said that Ciancio had sent e-mails to Rex Fowler threatening to sue him because of money that Fowler Software owed him.
When detectives interviewed Ciancio's wife, Laura, at the couple's Castle Rock home, she confirmed that her husband and Rex Fowler had been "arguing over company matters for several months. Mrs. Ciancio stated Rex Fowler had sent several e-mails to Thomas Ciancio's laptop computer making financial threats that had to do with the business," the affidavit said.
Colleagues were stunned that two men who seemed to work well together were involved in a deadly dispute.
"It caught me as a complete shock when I saw it on the television news last night and I'm still in shock," said Alan Baumbach, a software consultant who briefly worked at Fowler Software Design, said soon after the killing.
He described Ciancio as a sunny individual and a talented software programmer.
"He was very, very cheerful, always had a smile on his face, always happy to see you, and very positive and upbeat and optimistic," Baumbach said of Ciancio.
The dead man's brother, Charles Ciancio, gave detectives "four binders of L. Ron Hubbard College of Administration Course, which he called study material that was given to Thomas Ciancio to study for 'Scientology,'" the affidavit said.
This fueled Internet reports that many Fowler Software staffers were Scientologists and that Fowler might have tried to encourage Ciancio to join their faith.
The websites for Scientology critics say that Fowler Software was a member of the World Institute of Scientology Enterprises -- or WISE -- an alliance of businesses and professionals who adhere to the "management technology" principles of L. Ron Hubbard.
Rex Fowler publicly praised the rewards of his 36-year commitment to the faith.
"I am very proud to be a Scientologist," Fowler wrote in 2008 letter to the Rocky Mountain News describing himself as a Scientology minister.
Fowler said he was upset by the newspaper's review of comedian Kathy Griffin's TV series that highlighted the performer's "discriminatory remark about my religion."
"If the remark had been about Judaism or Islam, would the Rocky have included it in the article?" he wrote.
In a testimonial on a church website, he wrote that both his wife and two children "do Scientology courses on a regular schedule."
"Scientology has made a huge positive, difference in all our lives," he said.
Investigators traced the handgun used to kill Ciancio to Fowler's 25-year-old son, Alexander Hyung Fowler, who purchased the weapon from a Los Angeles sporting goods store in 2006, according to the affidavit.
Federal firearms records showed the younger Fowler listed his address at the time as 1413 L. Ron Hubbard Way in Los Angeles, the affidavit said. It is the address for the Church of Scientology's American Saint Hill Organization, which trains "volunteer ministers."
Alexander Fowler told investigators he gave the pistol to his father as a Christmas gift in 2007, the affidavit said.
The son said he went shooting once with his father and "William Fowler shoots much better than he does," the affidavit said.
Before Fowler discovered Hubbard's teachings in 1974, he wrote on a church website, "I was an angry young man looking for a group that might help solve the problems of this world, so I looked into Scientology.
"I'm not angry anymore," Fowler wrote. "As more and more people rediscover their true selves through Scientology, together we WILL achieve a world without war, crime, and insanity."