Tim Howard sidebar

What happens when key police files are found in the trunk of an officer’s car as the case is heading to trial?

Before Tim Howard’s case went to trial, his lawyers complained to the judge that the prosecutor had not turned over important information he had about other possible assailants. The surrender of such information to defense attorneys is required by law.
Howard’s lawyers came across the information by accident late in their preparation for trial. Incensed, they asked the judge to dismiss the charges against Howard. The lawyers argued that by improperly withholding the information–legally called “discovery”–the prosecutor had violated the laws guaranteeing defendants a fair trial. But the judge denied their motion. Moreover, he told Howard’s lawyers that they could not let the jury know about “the piecemeal fashion” in which the information had been released.
After Howard’s trial and conviction, his lawyers challenged the judge’s ruling in their appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Chief Justice W.H. “Dub” Arnold considered the problem in light of the law on discovery. He observed that the prosecuting attorney is required to turn over to defense attorneys any information in his possession “which tends to negate the guilt of the defendant” and that prosecutors are bound to disclose the exculpatory information “in sufficient time to permit the defense to make beneficial use of it.”
There was no dispute about the chronology. Here’s how Chief Justice W.H. “Dub” Arnold outlined it in his opinion:
Jan. 17, 1998 (three weeks after the murders)–Howard’s defense attorneys filed a motion for discovery, seeking all information about the case that was known to the prosecuting attorney.
Jan. 27, 1998–The prosecutor sent Howard’s attorneys a file containing 101 items, along with a cover letter from the prosecutor stating that he would provide any additional information that he acquired.
November 1998–One of Howard’s defense lawyers went to the Ashdown Police Department to review photographs concerning the investigation. “After a long delay,” Justice Arnold wrote, “the defense was told about interviews with nine witnesses who were previously unknown to the defense.” The witnesses’ statements “included information stating that Brian Day was dealing in stolen merchandise; Brian Day was seen arguing with a Caucasian male about money; Brian Day was dealing with non-local people; a new Corvette was seen in the Days’ driveway the morning of the murders; and, Brian Day owed someone about $2,000.”
Shortly before one of the pretrial hearing, Arnold noted, “There was also a part of the Howard file found in the trunk of a police car.” This too was then turned over to Howard’s legal team.
But Arnold and the justices who sided with him saw no problem in what had transpired. They ruled that Howard’s right to a fair trial had not been adversely affected, since the prosecutor had, in fact, surrendered the information once the defense team stumbled upon it.
As Arnold interpreted the law, Howard’s right to a fair trial would have been jeopardized only if the exculpatory information had never been provided.
“Here,” he explained, “the information was turned over to Howard when the state was presented with the information, or when the state learned of the information.”
Since Howard’s attorneys had received all of the information seven months before the trial, “there was no discovery violation.”
Of the seven justices who reviewed the case, only Ray Thornton even noted what Thornton called “the state’s last-minute responses in producing evidence sought during discovery.” And all Thornton said was that was that he was “troubled” by the situation. (End.)

The case for killing Tim Howard, part 3

*The purse, boots, gun, etc. *

As for statements that Howard had been seen with Shannon’s purse and later disposed of it, Hannah wrote: “His disposal could mean he wanted to dispose of evidence that he had murdered her–or that he did not want to be caught with the purse, given that someone else had killed her.”
Turning to the boots, Hannah noted that, while the majority had interpreted the trial record to read that “a Negroid hair” in one of the boots had been found to be “compatible with Howard’s DNA,” Hannah’s read the testimony to say that the hair had been described only as having been only “microscopically similar to Howard’s.”
The difference could be significant, especially since, as Hannah noted, “Other Caucasian hairs were found in the boots that were never identified.”
Hannah was also concerned about the location and position of the boots, standing side-by-side in plain view from a highway. Noting the prosecutor’s claim that Howard had thrown them from the car as he he’d passed, Hannah dryly observed, “If the state’s argument were correct, this would have been a pretty remarkable throw.”
Hannah continued: “Also, Howard was wearing the same clothes on Saturday morning as he had been wearing the night before. There was no blood on them. If he had worn the boots, the blood would have been on his pants leg.”
Hannah noted that police found “no bruises or other marks” when they questioned Howard the day after the murders, even though there was evidence that Shannon had put up a fight and that, in Hannah’s words, Brian was known to have been “a fellow who did not back down.”
And what about the gun? Hannah noted that Brian was shot with a .38 and that Howard had been seen with a .38 shortly before the murders. But Hannah questioned the significance of the gun, given that something dangerous was expected to happen and that, as Hannah wrote, “there is probably not a more common caliber than .38.”
The prosecutor had put forth two theories for why Howard had killed the Days. One was that Howard had wanted to collect all of the money from the scheduled drug deal, not just the $4,500 he reportedly was to have gotten.
The other theory was that Howard had murdered the Days because he believed he’d gotten Shannon Day pregnant.
Neither made much sense to Hannah. Moreover, he argued that the testimony about Shannon’s alleged pregnancy had been both unsubstantiated and so tenuous that it should not have been admitted into the trial.
Doctors who performed the autopsy on Shannon’s body concluded that, in fact, she was not pregnant when she was murdered. And even if she had been, Hannah observed, there’d been no testimony at the trial that Howard had ever been told she was.
Hannah believed the prosecutor wanted the jury to hear the unsupported claim merely to increase its outrage, and that, when Howard’s attorney’s objected, Circuit Judge Charles A. Yeargan should have agreed with them.
But Yeargan did not agree, and as a result, Hannah wrote, “An Aftican-American was tried for the capital murder of a white woman. Then … the jury is told that he might have gotten her pregnant as well. The obvious potential prejudice is so apparent it needs no discussion….”
Nor was Hannah convinced that the money Howard spent on the weekend of the murders constituted what Justice Arnold had called “large amounts of cash.” Hannah pointed out that Howard had spent only “a few hundred dollars” that weekend on the toolbox and motel rooms and that no sizeable stash of money had ever been connected to him.
Justice Hannah concluded, “The persons with whom Brian met on the night of the murders had a great deal more to gain from the murders and assault, either by making him an example of what happens when a person does not meet his obligations, or in gaining Brian’s ‘white’ and keeping their ‘green.’”

*‘The realm of fantasy’ *

Two other aspects of the case disturbed Hannah enough that he added them to his dissent. One was the prosecutor’s decision to show the jury a pair of fur-covered handcuffs.
Jennifer Qualls had testified that she once saw a pair of fur-covered handcuffs in Howard’s possession. Investigators never found those cuffs, and the handcuffs found on Brian and Shannon Day were ordinary metal ones.
There was no sign of glue on the handcuffs that were found on the Days’ bodies–nothing that would indicate that the cuffs had once been covered with fur. And there was no testimony that Howard had ever owned more than one pair of handcuffs.
Nonetheless, the prosecutor had gone to a local lingerie store, purchased a pair of fur-covered handcuffs and introduced them at the trial, explaining that they were “identical” to the pair that Howard was said to have owned. Howard’s attorney objected, arguing that the newly purchased handcuffs were just props for the prosecution and had no connection to the case, but Judge Yeargan sided with the prosecution.
So did the supreme court’s majority. But Hannah wrote that the judge’s decision was an error–and one serious enough that it warranted granting Howard a new trial.
Finally, Hannah attacked the prosecutor’ closing argument, in which he’d told the jury how “probably the most horrible thing that happened that night” was that, as Shannon Day died, she had been forced to watch “her seven-month old child being strangled in front of her.” The prosecutor had urged the jury to consider that image while deciding whether Howard should be sentenced to death.
That statement would have been fine, Hannah wrote, if what the prosecutor described was known to have actually occurred. As it was, Hannah argued, “The prosecutor entered the realm of fantasy.”
He explained, “While there is no question Trevor was strangled, there are no facts which would support any inference that he was hanged, or that he was hanged before his mother’s eyes. The closing argument was based on pure fiction.”
Noting that “the child was not even found in the same room as Shannon’s body,” and that “there was no evidence to show” who’d been assaulted first, “or for that matter, where within the home the assaults occurred,” Hannah concluded: “This was not evidence. It was pure speculation and conjecture.”
Rejecting the majority’s opinion that the issue was insignificant, he continued, “The state’s attorney was not going beyond the record to argue evidence that he thought should have been admitted. Instead, he testified to fictional facts. This is a serious problem that calls the very legitimacy of the trial into question.”
In the end, Hannah concluded that the opinion written by Arnold “stretches and reaches to assert
unsupported conclusions.”
He wrote, “In large part, this is so because in the [majority’s] analysis, the lives of Howard, Brian, Shannon, and Trevor Day are deftly lifted and separated from a virtual cesspool of crime teeming with any number of vermin who quite likely had both cause and motive to harm Shannon and Brian, as well as Howard and others.
“In this way, Howard and the Days can be viewed in isolation, and therefore the facts are not too difficult.
“However, if this case is viewed as it ought to be, the record we have received is hopelessly complicated, and to dive into the facts of all the witnesses is to nearly drown in a nether world of any number of threats, of drug dealers dealing one drug for another, of trips to other states to view other drug operations, of mysterious unidentified out-of-state drug dealers, of such fear among witnesses that they are careful not to be seen by anyone talking to the police.”
Far from supporting the verdict that Howard was guilty, Hannah concluded that the evidence presented by the state pointed clearly to no particular killer. “The most reasonable hypothesis that the evidence will support,” Justice Hannah wrote, “is that Brian was trying to do a deal with those to whom he was deeply indebted, and it went bad.”
. . .
In light of the extreme penalty Howard faces–death–and the extreme differences that arose among the justices who reviewed his case, Tim Howard’s lawyers have asked the court to look at his appeal again. As of this writing, the court had announced no decision on Howard’s petition for a rehearing. (End of Part 3.)

The case for killing Tim Howard, part 2

‘Horrible, horrible’

Normally, prosecutors in murder cases do not seek the death penalty. That most severe punishment is reserved for crimes of an especially heinous nature, such as those that appear to have been committed with exceptional cruelty.
When Howard’s case went to trial in December 1999, two years after the crime, prosecuting attorney Tom Cooper asked the jury to hand down two sentences of death. He said the brutality of the crime demanded it.
Howard’s public defender, Mac Carter, argued that the state had presented no evidence that connected Howard to either of the deaths.
He pointed out that it was not surprising that his fingerprints would have been found on U-Haul truck since Howard had rented it with Day and driven it.
Since Howard was also known to be a close friend of the Days, he said it was surprising that his client’s fingerprints would have been found on a soft drink bottle inside their house.
In addition, he offered evidence that Brian Day had been planning to conduct a dangerous deal with drug dealers from Oklahoma, and that many people, including Howard, knew that something was risky was in the works.
As for the boots, Carter pointed out that no explanation ever was offered for the footprints that led away from them into the woods. He also argued that it was unlikely that someone who had just killed a man would deliberately leave such evidence in broad sight near a road, where it could be so easily discovered.
Rather than pointing to Howard, Carter argued that the boots suggested that someone else had attempted to implicate him.
Though the prosecution emphasized Howard’s purchase of the toolbox, Carter stressed that there no evidence linking it to the murders, and it was too small to have hidden a body.
But the prosecutor countered that the sum of Howard’s actions were enough for the jury to find him guilty. And in his closing argument, Cooper reflected dramatically on the moments just before Shannon Day’s death.
He told the jurors that “probably the most horrible, horrible thing that happened in this case probably the most horrible thing that happened that night, was that she watched her seven-month old child being strangled in front of her.”
“I submit to you, ladies and gentleman, the last thing, the last thing that Shannon Day saw before she died was her seven-month old baby hanging from an extension cord. That’s how she left this world.”
The jury quickly found Howard guilty and sentenced him twice to death.

‘Inappropriate’ behavior

It took two and a half years for Howard’s appeal to reach the state supreme court. There, four justices–Chief Justice Amold, associate justices Annabelle Clinton Imber and Tom Glaze and Special Justice Mike Kinnard–concluded that the evidence against Howard had been sufficient to warrant his sentence of death. (One of the court’s associate justices, Donald L. Corbin, did not participate in the case because his wife, Dorcy Corbin, had served as one of the court- appointed attorneys who’d worked on Howard’s appeal.) In affirming Howard’s conviction, Justice Arnold outlined the “physical evidence” he said pointed to Howard’s guilt. It included: –Howard’s fingerprints on the U Haul truck; –the truck’s location on Howard’s family farm; –the boots with “Brian Day’s blood on one of them and a Negroid hair compatible with Howard’s DNA” inside the other; –the fact that the boots “were the same size and type that Vicki Howard testified Howard may have been wearing the day before;” –and the “fingerprints on a Mountain Dew bottle” in the house where Shannon’s body was found. Arnold also noted the “circumstantial evidence” that he felt reinforced the jury’s finding of guilt. This included testimony that: –Howard was said to have visited the farm shortly before the murders; –he was seen with a .38 caliber handgun and driving the U-Haul truck on the day before the bodies were found; –he had “appeared agitated” when Qualls met him at the rest stop; –he had been “handing out large amounts of cash” for the toolbox and various motel rooms; –he reportedly had said that the Days were hiding out and that only he knew where they were; –he was “the last person seen with Shannon and Trevor Day;” –Shannon Day suspected “that she was pregnant with Howard’s child;” –he had fled the state upon learning of Brian Day’s murder; –and finally, that he had “sought to control the information that Jennifer Qualls gave to the police.” No single item placed Howard with either of the Days at the times that they were killed. Justice Arnold addressed that problem by noting, apparently to his satisfaction, that, “the most incriminating evidence against Howard was his inappropriate and unexplainable behavior both before and after the discovery of the crime.” It is common for lawyers to argue on appeal that the evidence used against their clients was not sufficient to support a verdict of guilt. It is equally common for the state’s appellate court justices to summarily reject that claim. That is partly because the justices who sit on the state’s high courts are reluctant to second-guess a jury’s verdict. Claims that the evidence was insufficient are also hard to win because the law allows for verdicts to be viewed in the light most favorable to the state. Thus, attorneys who argue insufficiency face an extremely high hurdle. One veteran Arkansas court-watcher could not recall a case in the past ten years when even one justice had agreed with a defense claim that the evidence had been insufficient. In Howard’s case, however, not one but three of the Supreme Court justices reached that remarkable conclusion. Each wrote a scathing dissent.

“It appears that 70 years of precedent is, being abandoned.”
– Justice Jim Hannah

Justice Robert L. Brown expressed concern about the almost total lack of evidence linking Howard to Shannon Day’s murder. He noted evidence that Arnold and other members of the court’s majority had discounted in their opinion, including that “Shannon Day’s body was found under picture frames with unidentified fingerprints on them.”
While the majority made much of the fact that Howard’s fingerprints had been found on a bottle of Mountain Dew inside the Day’s home, Brown observed that the unidentified prints on the picture frames found on top of Shannon’s body were “much more likely to have come from the perpetrator of Shannon’s murder….”
Calling the evidence against Howard “circumstantial” and “extremely weak,” Justice Brown wrote bluntly:
“The proof implicating Howard in Shannon’s murder is paper thin. The majority, in fact, says as much when it states that it is relying on Howard’s ‘inappropriate and unexplainable behavior’ as the most incriminating evidence against him. Inappropriate and unexplainable behavior, in my mind, is not forceful….”
Justice Ray Thornton agreed. Thornton added, “I also believe that the evidence to support a conviction for the murder of Brian Day was very thin.”
Moreover, Thornton wrote, “In my view, even if the minimal amount of evidence is barely sufficient to present the fact question to the jury, the case is deeply flawed by prejudicial errors and I must conclude that a new trial should be ordered.”
The most blistering objections, however, were raised by Justice Jim Hannah. In a 22-page dissent, Hannah argued that none of what Arnold had cited as “physical evidence” of Howard’s guilt–not his fingerprints at either scene or even the controversial boots–directly linked Howard to the murders.
Noting instead that “this case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence,” Hannah reminded the court of the law, laid down in 1932, which dictated the conditions that had to be met for circumstantial evidence to be considered sufficient.
Quoting the law, Hannah wrote, “The circumstances relied on must be so connected and cogent as to show guilt to a moral certainty.” Moreover, those circumstances “must exclude every other reasonable hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused.”
In Howard’s case, Hannah wrote, the circumstances did not exclude every other reasonable hypothesis and thus they did not show that Howard was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“It appears,” Hannah wrote, “that 70 years of precedent is being abandoned.”

‘Unidentified persons’

Hannah cited prior rulings, handed down by the supreme court itself, which required that the evidence against a defendant be strong enough that jurors would not have to speculate to reach a finding of guilt.
Brown had observed in his dissent that, “What is notable about this case is what is not known. Various pieces of the puzzle are missing, and we are forced to engage in speculation to fill the gaps.”
Hannah elaborated on that concern. Noting that jurors at Howard’s trial had been presented with at least two “reasonable hypotheses”as to who might have killed the Days, he concluded they had been forced to speculate.
Then, like Arnold, he examined the evidence from Howard’s trial. But, unlike Arnold and the majority, Hannah saw a very different picture.
First, he acknowledged that it was reasonable to have considered Howard a suspect. But, Hannah added, other evidence “tended to incriminate others with whom Brian was making a drug deal.” Citing evidence that the majority on the court had discounted, Justice Hannah explained:
“Evidence was presented that Brian was deeply in debt, that he and his wife feared for their lives, that he had set up a drug deal that took place about the time of the murders at the place where his body was found, that a substantial sum of money was involved, that he was to receive something that required a truck to haul, and that in the days before his murder he had been in confrontation with unidentified persons, who were apparently the persons he met the night of his murder.” Addressing the matter of motive, Hannah noted that the trial record failed to show “that Brian owed Howard money or that Howard showed up with a substantial sum after the murders.
“What the record does reveal is that Brian owed other people money, and that people were mad. He was trying to gather up cash from his users or from anywhere he could get it.”
Among the points Hannah addressed, which the majority had ignored, was testimony that Shannon Day had told one witness shortly before the murders that “she did not know what Brian was doing with the money but they were going to kill him.”
Hannah wrote, “Shannon also told a friend that if anything happened to her it would be because of Chicken,” who was identified as one of Brian’s suppliers.
A male witness testified that a week before the murders, he’d overheard Brian tell an unknown white man who’d come to his house, “I don’t have that kind of money.”
Two witnesses testified that Shannon had told them she feared for her family’s safety because, “Brian owed everybody money and Brian was in over his head.”
When Brian’s father was notified of his son’s death, he told the police, “I knew this was going to happen.”
Hannah wrote, “There was testimony that in the past Howard and Brian had done their deals together, but this time Brian had set up his own deal, and although Howard was helping him indirectly, Howard did not know who Brian was dealing with.”
Another witness testified that on the Tuesday before the murders, she had seen Brian Day outside his home arguing with two white men.
“There is abundant evidence that all of these people were nervous about something that has never been revealed,” Hannah wrote. “The evidence does put someone at the Howard farm with Brian the night he was killed,” but, he added, “It does not put Howard there.” (End of Part 2.)

The case for killing Tim Howard

_Note: A few readers have recently learned about Timothy Howard, another person awaiting execution on Arkansas’s Death Row. I wrote about Howard’s case for the Arkansas Times in 2002 and remain in touch with him. I believe that, like Damien Echols, he is innocent. I also see disturbing similarities between his case and that of the WM3. Since this article appeared, Howard’s case has moved to the federal district court for the eastern district of Arkansas, where he is awaiting an evidentiary hearing on his federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus before Judge Brian S. Miller. For anyone interested, here, in four parts, is that 2002 story._

The most incriminating evidence against Howard was his inappropriate and unexplainable behavior.”
–Arkansas Supreme Court, May 9, 2002

Tim Howard was an anomaly in southeast Arkansas: a black man who socialized mainly with whites. He married a white woman. He had affairs with white women. The people he dealt drugs with were white. His closest friends, Brian and Shannon Day, were white.
On Saturday, Dec. 13, 1997, an anonymous caller notified the sheriff s office for Little River County that blood was dripping out of a U-Haul rental truck parked on Howard’s property.
Police drove to the scene, a farm in the tiny town of Ogden (pop. 126), about three miles from the Texas border and 20 miles from the border with Oklahoma.
After breaking the padlock on the truck, deputies found the body of Brian Day. He’d been beaten severely and shot in the head with a .38 caliber bullet.
When officers drove to the Days’ home to inform Shannon Day of her husband’s murder, they found her dead as well. Shannon’s body was slumped in a bedroom closet, covered with various items, including a mattress and some picture frames.
Trevor Day, the couple’s seven-month-old son, was found in a zipped bag in another room, beneath a pile of clothes. A cord was tied around the baby’s neck, but he was alive.
Four days later, police arrested Timothy Lamont Howard, a 28-year-old with no prior convictions. They charged him with the Days’ murders and with the attempted murder of young Trevor.
Two years passed before Howard’s case went to trial, but when it did, in December 1999, a jury quickly found Howard guilty. It sentenced him to death for each of the Days’ murders and to an added thirty years in prison for the attempted murder of their child.
Three months ago, in May, the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed Howard’s conviction. But the court was more deeply divided than it has ever been on a case involving the death penalty. Four justices ruled that the evidence showed Howard was guilty. Three others issued strenuous dissents, arguing that the evidence in now way supported the verdict.
Here’s how the justices saw Howard’s case, based on the trial court’s record. First, the majority’s opinion—the case for executing Tim Howard.

“We affirm the trial court on all points and Howard’s judgment of conviction.”
–Chief Justice W.H. “Dub” Arnold

Acting ‘weird’
W.H. “Dub” Arnold, the Arkansas Supreme Court’s chief justice, wrote the majority opinion, which found that Howard’s trial had been fair.
To explain how the high court reached its conclusion, Arnold outlined Howard’s activities, both before and after the bodies were discovered, based on what witnesses had said at his trial.
Taken together, the statements show that Howard went to several places and interacted with several people within a two- or three-day period around the time of the murders. Though the description of his activities is a bit dizzying, it never places Howard at the scene of the crime at the time the murders occurred.
Nonetheless, the jury at Howard’s trial–and the majority on the supreme court–found that Howard’s activities appeared suspicious enough to warrant his sentence of death.
Here is Arnold’s description of what the trial revealed:
“Brian Day and Howard sold drugs together.” Arnold also noted that, “Howard had been friends with Brian and Shannon Day for years, and the nature and depth of their friendship was not disputed.”
On Thursday, Dec. 11, 1997, Howard went with Brian Day to rent a U-Haul truck. Howard told three different women that he and Brian had a deal in the works, from which Howard expected to receive $4,500.
One of the women was Howard’s ex-wife Vickie. Though the two had been recently divorced and Tim Howard was dating at least two other women, he and Vickie remained on generally friendly terms. Vickie was also described as a very close friend of the Days.
Arnold noted that, on the morning before the murders, Howard had met Vickie at a restaurant after she left her job on a night shift. During that encounter, “Howard acknowledged to Vicki [sic] that he was upset with the Days because they would not admit to dealing drugs, and they allowed others to believe that Howard was the only person dealing drugs and bringing them to Ashdown.”
Howard also “discouraged Vicki from going on to stay overnight with Brian and Shannon Day because they were in a fight.” Instead, he rented a room for her at a Texarkana motel.
Later that morning, Howard came to the motel driving a U-Haul truck. Several witnesses at Howard’s trial said they understood that the truck was to be used to transport a load of marijuana that Day expected to receive in exchange for a quantity of methamphetamine–an exchange that was characterized at the trial as a trade of “green” for “white.”
Howard reportedly told Vickie “not to tell anyone about the U-Haul because the information would get her killed.”
During the next several hours, Howard was on the move, often with help from his former wife and two other female friends.
Leaving the truck at the motel, Howard asked Vickie to drive him out to his family farm. There she watched as he reportedly entered a small shack, picked something up, and returned to the car.
Vickie then dropped Howard off at the apartment of Kim Jones, one of the women whom he was dating. (Howard and Jones have since married.)
Later that Friday, at around 5 p.m., Howard called Vickie at the motel, asking that she pick him up at Jones’s apartment. Vickie did, and when Howard got into her car, he had a camera bag. Vickie testified he told her that it contained “some stuff to have kinky sex”–items which she said included handcuffs and a rope.
Howard dropped Vickie off at the motel, then drove her car to the local Wal-Mart. When he returned, Vickie testified, he had “a .38 caliber handgun stuck in the front of his pants.”
Justice Arnold noted Vickie’s statement that when Howard left her at the motel room at 9:40 that Friday night, he was wearing “a black sweatshirt, jeans, and she though a pair of boots.”
At about 11 p.m., Howard called another woman with whom he was involved; Kim Jones’s sister, Jennifer Qualls. He asked Qualls to pick him up at a rest stop on Hwy. 71, near the Red River Bridge.
Qualls testified that when she arrived, Howard was acting “weird.” She said Howard got into her car and they drove to her house and went to bed.

‘Identical’ handcuffs
Howard got up at about 1 a.m. Saturday morning, telling Qualls that “he had to go get his money.” He returned about two hours later, woke Qualls and told her that he was leaving Shannon and Trevor Day with her, “while he and Brian went to take care of some business.”
Qualls said that she knew that she saw Shannon and heard the child, but that when she awoke at 6:30 a.m., no one was in the house.
Howard turned up again at about 7:30 a.m. He told Qualls that the Days were hiding out and that he was the only person who knew where they were.
He gave Qualls $200 in cash and told her that he needed a ride back out to the rest stop on Hwy. 71, where Kim Jones’s car had been left.
Justice Arnold observed that, “On the way to the rest stop, Jennifer noticed a woman’s purse and other bags in the back seat of her car. Howard told her that they belonged to Shannon Day.”
Later that morning, Howard bought a large, truck-sized toolbox, for which he paid $140 in cash. He left it in Qualls’s front yard.
By this time, the call had come in to the sheriff’s office that blood was seen dripping from a rental truck on Tim Howard’s farm. The caller was never identified.
When police arrived at the farm, they concluded that Brian had been killed in the shack, and that his body had been dragged to the truck where it was stashed. When officers examined the truck, they found Tim Howard’s fingerprints.
Shortly after police released news of the murders, a local man reported that he had spotted a pair of boots earlier that morning in a clearing alongside a highway, about two miles from the Howards’ farm. The man said he’d passed the spot at about 8:20 a.m., and that the boots were not there at that time, but that when he’d passed that way again, some twenty minutes later, he’d been was startled to see the boots. They were standing side by side, and the man noticed human footprints in the frost, leading into nearby woods.
Justice Arnold wrote that the boots were “the same size and type that Howard’s ex-wife, Vicki Howard, had bought for him and thought she had seen him in the previous day.”
Arnold added that a hair found inone of the boots “matched Howard’s DNA, plus blood on top of the left boot matched Brian Day’s DNA.”
By now, police had also driven to the Days’ home and found Shannon Day’s body.
Arnold noted that her hands “had been handcuffed behind her back with handcuffs that were described at trial by the state as ‘identical’ to the pair that Qualls testified Howard had once purchased from a Texarkana lingerie store.”
Moreover, “there was a ligature around her neck, and there were bruises on her body indicating some sort of struggle.” When detectives searched the house, they found “fingerprints on a Mountain Dew bottle in the living room that were identified as Howard’s.”
By now, news of the murders was now spreading.
Vickie testified that Tim Howard called her at 11 a.m. on the morning the bodies were found. He told her that, as he’d driven towards his farm, he had seen police cars heading in the same direction, and that an ambulance had passed him. He said he’d turned around and gone back to Texarkana, since it appeared that something had gone wrong with Brian’s deal.
Vickie picked Howard up and the two drove to meet Jennifer Qualls.
Qualls testified that, when Howard arrived, he told her that the police had found a dead body inside a U-Haul truck. Arnold noted, “He stated that he was unsure if it was Brian, but he asked Qualls to clean out her car because the police would probably be wanting to talk with her.”
In addition, Arnold noted, “Qualls also testified that Howard asked her if she was going to turn him in,” and that when she asked Howard what had happened to Shannon’s purse, “Howard told her that he had gotten rid of it.”
The three left town and spent the night in Texas. However, they returned to Ashdown the next afternoon and gave statements to the police.
Arnold noted that Qualls said Howard had instructed her “not to say anything about the money.” Arnold also found it significant that, “After Qualls gave the police her statement, Howard asked whether she had said anything about the toolbox.”
Three days later, police arrested Tim Howard. (End of Part 1.)

A rare court ruling; but the perp’s still working in the courthouse

Dan Harmon, the former prosecuting attorney whose deceit lurks at the heart of my book, “The Boys on the Tracks,” has spent his time in prison for racketeering and conspiracy. When he first returned to his home in Benton, Arkansas, he got a job working an early shift as a cook at a local Waffle House. But then some of his cronies from the old days, when his was the biggest swagger in the county, apparently took pity on him. Harmon was given a less hectic job in-putting data at the county clerk’s office in the courthouse.

A few weeks ago he was called to testify in an appeal brought by Raymond Sanders, a man whom Harmon had prosecuted for murder and who’d been sentenced to die for the crime. The attorney who represneted Sanders at the time of his trial was William Murphy, a lawyer who was later convicted with Harmon of running a local drug racket.

In Sanders’s recent petition, he told the court that, prior to his trial, Harmon had made a deal with a key witness—a deal that was not disclosed at his trial. Sure enough, when Harmon was called to testify, he acknowledged that the deal had been made and had been kept secret.

Last week, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a highly unusual ruling allowing Sanders to proceed with a petition for a writ of error coram nobis on the claim that he was denied due process at his trial. A lower court will now have to decide whether he will get a new trial.

And Harmon? Yes, he served his time on the federal charges of conspiracy and racketeering, and that should be the end of that. But what about crimes like this that he committed while in office? Harmon was a very persuasive prosecutor. He put many people in prison, some of whom are still there for drug crimes that were less severe than the ones for which he was prosecuted.

How many other guilty verdicts did he win with the help of undisclosed deals? And why is this person who has so disgraced the law being allowed to work in the courthouse?

It is rare for states to prosecute prosecutors, when cases of prosecutorial misconduct are proven. That needs to change.

In Saline County, Arkansas, the change needs to start at an even more basic point. The prosecutor who engaged in rampant misconduct should not be rewarded with a job in the very institution he so corrupted.

So long as he is there, residents of Saline County, and indeed the state of Arkansas, can rightly feel that court officials feel no need to attempt even the appearance of propriety.

WM3 defense teams meet with state; lay scientific ‘cards on the table’

Defense attorneys for Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., the men known as the West Memphis Three, brought four forensic pathologists and two forensic odontologists with them to a meeting at the Arkansas Crime Lab on Thursday, May 17, according to a source who attended the day-long meeting.
“Our approach has been to lay our cards on the tables and be as open and straight-forward with the state as possible,” he said.
“We wanted to let our science people get with their science people and let the lawyers get out of the way. We want the science to be leading the lawyers, instead of the opposite.”
Rumors have circulated recently that there has been a shift of focus in the case as a result of information discovered by investigators working for the defense.
Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the three murder victims, alluded to the speculation in remarks to a Little Rock reporter on the day the defense teams visited the crime lab.
Noting that she still believes the West Memphis Three are guilty, Hobbs added, “but I am—like everyone else—was there someone else out there other than those three?”
The source who was present at the crime lab meeting said, “DNA was not the focus of the meeting.” He added, however, that testing has not produced “any [DNA] matches to our guys.”
Asked whether the testing had produced a link to anyone else, he replied, “No comment.”

The gang at ‘ground zero’

The crime. The trials. All that went wrong–and the responsibility for getting errors corrected. It all comes down to Arkansas.

The three children who were murdered were Arkansans. So were their families, their neighbors, and the jurors who sat in judgment of the WM3.

The three teenagers were convicted in Arkansas courts. Now men, they are being held in Arkansas prisons. If they are ever to be freed, it will be on orders from an Arkansas judge.

Whenever I speak in my home state, I remind my fellow Arkansans that we, in particular, are straddled with the trials of the West Memphis Three. They are “our case and our disgrace.”

The simple fact is that all the pressures of this case bear down more intensely, more personally, here. We are grateful for every all the outrage that has arisen about this case around the world. That and the work of supporters–all the creativity, effort and funding–remains invaluable. If this case is turned around, it will be because so many have helped that happen.

As I’ve traveled, however, I’ve realized that the view of this case from outside Arkansas is naturally different from the view of it from inside our borders. Supporting the WM3 here can sometimes be tougher than being a supporter somewhere else.

We all have stories. For me, it was learning about how posters announcing a book signing for Devil’s Knot in Jonesboro, where one of the trials was held, had been repeatedly torn down or defaced.

For others, supporting the WM3 has meant facing the disapproval–or even anger–of relatives who remain convinced of their guilt.

For all supporters in this small state, it has meant defying the pronouncements of local and state officials who dismiss us as being misinformed, at best.

I’ve applauded the work of supporters at the University of Central Arkansas, but there are others who should be mentioned:

–Dan Stidham, Jessie Misskelley’s trial lawyer, has been outspoken about this case for years.

–The Arkansas Times has been out-front, among the media.

–Leaders of Arkansas Governor’s School, a residential summer program for high school students, have, for years, encouraged discussion of the case.

And there are others–high school and college teachers, students at various campuses, newspaper and tv reporters, ordinary people from all walks of life.

I don’t know of anyone here, however, who has been more steadfast in support of the WM3 than the founders of, particularly Amanda Lamb and Wendy Crow of Pine Bluff (in photo above) and Mary Boley of Russellville.

They personally took the thousands of letters written last year by supporters around the world to the Arkansas capitol and to our governor. They have been tireless. I stand in awe.

I also reserve special respect for those supporters who live in the vicinity of West Memphis. That includes all those in east Arkansas, Memphis, and northern Mississippi–the area most directly affected by the horror of the crimes and the sensationalism of the arrests and trials.

People there who stand in support of the men convicted of killing the three children in 1993 face much the same opposition felt by those of us in Arkansas. It takes some fortitude.

Wherever we come from, though, our presence at the Crittenden County Courthouse in Marion on June 2 will make an essential statement. For two hours we will stand at the heart of the storm to show our hope for a better outcome.

We will say by our presence that we believe terrible mistakes were made; that the trials were not fair; and that the actual killer or killers may still be free.

We will stand, quite simply, for justice–for the victims, for the accused, and for everyone in the future who may ever come before the courts of this or any other state.

It’s not a bad job for a Saturday. We hope to see you there.