The chance of a new death sentence for Tim Howard was taken “off the table” today as the judge and attorneys on both sides prepared for the retrial of Tim Howard on charges of murdering a man and woman in Little River County in 1997.
Howard spent 14 years on death row before a court granted him a new trial in October 2013 after finding that the prosecutor at his original trial had failed to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence.
At a pretrial hearing in Ashdown this morning, Circuit Judge Charles Yeargan accepted Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Chesshir’s decision to seek a sentence of life without parole for Howard at his new trial, which will start Mar. 2.
Earlier today, Howard’s lead attorney, Patrick Benca of Little Rock, submitted to the court a motion to dismiss the case entirely, due to what Benca called “further violations” of the state’s duty to disclose “exculpatory and/or potentially exculpatory information.”
For example, Benca noted in his motion that, though his team has sought for more than a year to examine the panties and sweat pants worn by the female victim, those items were said to have been lost until, “They were finally located on January 28, 2015, in the evidence storage room of the Ashdown Police Department.”
Another “newly discovered” item Benca cited was a document that mentioned a 911 call made to the Sheriff’s Office about the murdered woman before her body was discovered.
The motion claims that, although Chesshir told defense attorneys “that 911 did not exist in December of 1997,” the newly discovered report was dated Dec. 13 of that year. “To date,” the motion said, “no 911 tape has been turned over to the defense.”
In total, Howard’s attorneys listed 13 items of evidence, including the coroner’s report for one victim and X-rays of the other, that they say the state is required to provide but has not.
Benca argued in his motion that, because of the “misconduct done by the prosecution before, during and after the original trial, and since Mr. Howard has been granted a new trial,” Howard cannot receive a fair trial and the charges against him should be dismissed.
Judge Yeargan scheduled another hearing for Feb. 24 to hear arguments on the 21-page motion to dismiss.
Earlier this week, Chesshir filed a motion to compel Howard’s attorneys to provide the state with the names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses the defense intend to call “and all written or recorded statements made by these persons and a brief narrative of each witnesses [sic] testimony.”
Benca responded that the names and addresses would be provided today. The rest of what Chesshir wanted, he wrote, was not legally required.
Voices rose and the discussion before the bench became agitated this morning, as attorneys for Howard and the state debated what must and need not be provided and what should and should not be introduced at trial. At one point, Yeargan interrupted them to shout: “Alright! Stop!”
He called a recess and instructed the attorneys to “calm down,” which they did. Howard sat alert and quiet, taking notes throughout.