_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
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.
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.)