Mara Leveritt reports from Ashdown on Monday's events in the first day of Tim Howard's retrial on a 1997 murder charge.
ASHDOWN —In a county that is a bit more than 20 percent black, a jury of six white women, five white men and one black man took their seats today for the first day of a retrial of Tim Howard
, a black man charged with the murder of a white couple in 1997 and the attempted murder of their seven-month-old son.
A new trial was ordered for Howard in 2013 after Circuit Judge Charles Yeargan ruled that the prosecutor at Howard’s original trial had withheld potentially exculpatory information that was available to the state.
In opening statements, attorneys for the state and for Howard outlined vastly different versions of what transpired 18 years ago when Bryan and Shannon Day were found murdered at two different sites and their infant son was found in a zipped duffle bag in the room with his mother’s body.
Alwin Smith, a deputy prosecuting attorney, revisited much of the information presented at Howard’s first trial in 1999, at which he was found guilty and sentenced to death, including Shannon Day’s reported belief that she was pregnant with Howard’s child.
Smith recounted how Bryan Day’s body was found with a bullet wound to the head on property owned by members of Howard’s family; how Shannon Day was found strangled in a bedroom of the couple’s home, and how their baby was found in the duffle bag with a lamp cord around his neck.
Smith attributed the murders to a “deteriorating” relationship between Howard and Bryan Day, who were known to have been close friends. Smith said evidence would show that Howard owed Day money for drugs and Day “appeared” to believe that “something was going on” between Shannon and Howard.
Smith told jurors that Howard had sold a gun that was stolen from the Days’ home, that he had bought a large truck tool box shortly before the murders, and that boots “just like boots the defendant wore” were found with blood from Bryan Day on the outside and leg hairs from Howard on the inside.
Patrick Benca, representing Howard, asked jurors to remember that in 1997, methamphetamine use was rampant in Little River County, some of it fueled by “a couple of gentlemen who were big-time manufacturers.” He said Bryan Day was a dealer for those men and aspired to grow rich in the drug trade as they had.
Benca described Howard as “a user, not a dealer.” But, he said, in the weeks leading up to the murders, Day had grown indebted to his suppliers to the point that his wife Shannon was desperate to flee the county, and the couple wanted Howard’s help to do so.
Benca also said that evidence would show that long before the murders, Howard and his wife were told that his sperm count was so low that he probably would probably be unable to father a child. The attorney said that the only two people who said anything incriminating about Howard at his trial were two women with whom he’d had relationships and who felt jilted.
After the opening statements, prosecutors began calling police officials who participated in the murder investigation to discuss photos taken at the two murder scenes. More testimony from investigators is expected on Tuesday.