Why “Get Tim Out”
Tim Howard was sentenced to death for the 1998 murders in Ashdown of Brian Day, his best friend, and Day’s wife Shannon Day, who was also a close friend. He was also convicted of attempting to kill the couple’s infant son.
Attention was drawn to Howard’s case when the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed Howard’s conviction, but with three of the seven justices dissenting. In unprec
edented opinions for a death case in Arkansas, the three dissenters wrote that they did not find sufficient evidence even to convict Howard—let alone to sentence him to death.
Since that ruling, concern about Howard’s case has escalated. Here are a few reasons why:
1. NO BLOOD TRANSFER. Brian Day died from blunt force trauma and a gunshot wound to his head. His injuries indicated a violent physical attack and struggle. The state medical examiner testified that Brian=s murder would have caused the transfer of blood. Yet no blood was found on Howard’s clothes or in any of the cars he drove on the night of the murders or the following morning.
2. NO EVIDENCE OF A STRUGGLE. Shannon Day was strangled and had numerous injuries, both blunt force and defensive, indicating another struggle. Howard had no bruises, scratches or other marks or injuries on his body when questioned the day after the murders.
3. NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE NEAR BRIAN’S BODY. Brian’s body was found in the back of a U-Haul truck on farmland owned by Howard’s family, a place that Brian knew. While Howard’s fingerprints were found on the U-Haul, it was undisputed that Howard had gone with Brian to rent the truck and had driven it the day before the murders. No hair, fingerprints or DNA from Howard were found on or near Brian=s body.
4. NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE NEAR SHANNON’S BODY. No hairs, fingerprints or DNA from Howard were found on or near her body, or on or around the couple’s son, who was discovered alive in a zipped bag under a pile of clothes. While Howard=s fingerprints were found on a soda bottle in the Days’ living room, it is also undisputed that, as a friend of the Days, he was a frequent visitor in their home.
5. UNIDENTIFIED EVIDENCE. Police did, however, find fingerprints on the window frames and picture frames that had been placed over Shannon=s body. These prints were never identified.
6. NO MOTIVE. There is no evidence that Howard had had a falling out with either of the Days. But there was substantial evidence that Brian had enemies. A neighbor of the Days testified that three days before the murders, she and her mother saw Brian arguing with two Caucasian men in the driveway of his home. Those men were never identified. [Brian and Shannon Day were white. Howard is black.]
7. DRUG DEBTS. The record reflects that Brian owed several people money. In the days before his death, Brian was trying to gather up cash from his users. One witness testified that Shannon feared for the couple’s safety because, ABrian owed everybody money and was in over his head.@ Shortly before her death, Shannon told a friend that Brian owed a drug dealer nicknamed AChicken@ money; that Chicken had been to the Days’ house three or four times looking for Brian; and that Chicken was mad. Shannon told one friend that if anything happened to her it would be because of Chicken. Another friend said Shannon told her Ashe did not know what Brian was doing with the money but they were going to kill him.”
8. PLANNED DEAL. The night before Brian's murder, he spoke with several friends about illegal deals he had going. He revealed to some that he was going to be receiving a load of stolen merchandise around midnight from a person he had not dealt with before. Likewise, Shannon told friends that Brian was dealing with non-local people; that they had gone to Oklahoma to view a drug lab operation; and that Brian was buying and making drugs with three other men whom she identified. As Justice Hannah stated in his dissent in Howard’s case: The persons with whom Brian met on the night of the murders had a great deal more to gain from the murders and assault than Howard did, whether by making him an example of what happens when a person does not meet his obligations, or simply by stealing his drugs.
9. STRANGE EVIDENCE. Two miles from where Brian’s body was discovered, a pair of boots was found standing side-by-side in an open area several feet from the road. Blood on the top of one boot was identified as Brian’s. There was testimony that the boots were similar to Howard’s and that aANegroid@ hair found in them was microscopically similar to Howard's hair. Prosecutors argued that Howard had thrown the boots from a car. However, several unidentified Caucasian hairs were also found in the boots. More significantly, the boots were found at the side of the road at approximately 8:45 A.M. by a man who testified that they had not been there when he’d passed the spot 15 minutes earlier. The man also said that when he found the boots, he’d seen fresh footprints in the dew which suggested to him that someone had walked out of the woods, set the boots out in the open, and then returned to the woods.
10. RACIST TINT. The prosecuting attorney proposed that Howard had killed the Days and attempted to kill their child while in a meth-induced fury that involved stealing money from Brian and killing Shannon whom Howard believed was pregnant with his baby. In fact, Howard had learned years earlier that he was sterile. No one testified that Howard was ever told that Shannon Day might be pregnant. And Shannon’s autopsy revealed that she was not. Justice Hannah wrote: “An African-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…”