Ashdown — By the end of Monday, the sixth day of Tim Howard’s
retrial, prosecutors had presented abundant and undisputed testimony that Howard was a close friend of the victims, used methamphetamine, and sold stolen goods.
Prosecutors said from the start that their murder case would be circumstantial. But key pieces of it have yet to be connected.
On Monday, Kenny “Chicken” Fields
testified that Brian Day, one of the two murder victims, was one of the meth dealers who worked for him and that Day died owing Fields about $2,000. When Prosecutor Bryan Chesshir asked, “Did you kill Brian Day,” Fields answered, “No.”
He then explained the economics of the meth trade that gripped Little River County in 1997 when the murders occurred.
Fields said that he typically fronted Day an ounce of methamphetamine from deliveries he received from Dallas, and that, of the four dealers who worked for him, Day “probably sold more than anybody else.”
Fields said he picked up his supply at weekly “chicken fights” in which he entered his own chickens in Vivian, La., where cock-fighting was legal. He said he’d bring his birds to the fight and purchase anywhere from four ounces to as much as four pounds of meth from his Dallas supplier.
According to Fields, Day typically picked up one ounce per week to sell, for which Fields expected payment within a week to 10 days.
He said he charged his dealers $1,600 per ounce and that they, in turn, charged their customers $100 per gram. Dealers could earn a profit of $1,200 per ounce if they sold all of it.
But several witnesses testified that at the time that Brian Day and his wife Shanon were murdered, they were both snorting a lot of meth, as was their friend, the defendant, Tim Howard.
Fields said that in the two weeks before the Days’ murders, he had fronted Day an ounce, for which Day came up $400 short when it was time to pay a week later. Nevertheless, Fields said, he fronted Day another ounce — a situation he said was not unusual — and that Day told him he would repay the entire $2,000 owed by 8:30 p.m. Friday — the night before the pair was found dead.
While insisting that he was not worried about the money, Fields acknowledged, that in the days just before that weekend, he went to the Days’ house once on Wednesday, twice on Thursday and again on Friday evening, “even though they didn’t owe me the money until the next Tuesday.” Asked if his wife had also gone to the Days’ house on Saturday, when Fields said he was at the cock fights in Louisiana, Fields said she did not.
When asked why he went by the house so often when the money was not actually due until the following week, Fields answered that he’d gone out of “concern for Brian.”
When Fields’ ex-wife, Lorri Fields
, took the stand, she contradicted her ex-husband’s testimony, stating that, on the Saturday of the murders, she had gone to the couple’s house, at his instruction. When told that Kenny Fields had just testified to the contrary, Lorri Fields said, “I don’t believe he would say that.”
The testimony of Penny Grainger
, a woman who testified at Howard’s original trial but who has died in the 16 years since, was read by a court clerk, with Benca and Chesshir reading the parts of Howard’s earlier defense attorney and the prosecutor at the time.
Prosecutors wanted Grainger’s testimony admitted because in it she stated that she was present when Shanon Day took an early pregnancy test, two weeks before the murders. “It come up with a positive,” Grainger said. She added that Shanon Day was “very, very upset by the result,” and said that Brian would be mad because the baby might be Howard’s.
Grainger further testified that Brian Day “owed everybody money” and that Shanon was “paranoid” around then and “talking out of her head.”
Another witness, Dennis Currence
, gave a similar account of Shanon Day’s state of mind at the time. He said that on the Thursday night before the murders, he was with a friend, Phillip Bush, when Bush got a call from Shanon, who needed help fixing a flat tire.
When the two men got to Shanon’s car, Currence said they found the doors open and the Days’ seven-month-old infant in a car seat in the back and crying. “It was freezing cold,” he said. “The temperature was in the teens, and he was only in a diaper.”
Currence said Shanon Day was “in her own world and kept saying, ‘I’ve got to go to Texarkana.’” He added, “She seemed to be on drugs — bad.”
Currence said Shanon Day drove off and Brian Day arrived while they were still loading the jack into Bush’s car. Then the three men went to Bush’s shop, where they snorted meth.
At about 1 a.m., Currence said, Shanon walked in with Howard, who was holding the baby. Brian took the infant and cleaned his face, then Howard left, saying he had a truck to load. “After that, Brian and Shanon left,” Currence said. “It was the last time I saw them alive.”
Under cross-examination by Benca, Currence said that Brian Day had told him he owed up to $8,000 to “people up north” and that he had urged Brian to “get out of the dope game” because he was “worried about their lives.”
Currence and others testifying for the state have disputed Benca’s opening statement that the Days were preparing to move. Among those who said that were two brothers of Brian Day.
testified that he and Howard were good friends until shortly before the murders, when, he said, his wife noticed that Howard had changed. “He got snappy,” Lloyd Day said, “like he was angry, bitter, mean.”
Lloyd Day, who was convicted of distributing drugs “six or seven years ago,” said that he went to his brother’s house the day before the murders “to see if he had any meth.”
“He told me some people were going to come by that night with a four-wheeler and some guns to sell,” Lloyd Day said. “He also said a gun of David’s [another brother] was missing.”
Under cross-examination, Lloyd Day said Brian and Howard “were like two peas in a pod,” but that, “the last time I saw Brian, he said Tim owed him money and stole his gun.”
Benca noted that, though Lloyd Day had given numerous statements to police about events at the time of Brian’s murder, this was the first time he had said anything about Howard owing Brian money.
Another brother, Kevin Day
, said that in the weeks before the murders, Shanon Day “seemed real nervous, worried.” He testified that she believed someone was listening to or recording phone conversations, that Brian and the garbage man were signaling each other with flashlights, and that people were going into and out of their attic.
Kevin Day said he checked the attic but found it undisturbed, and that the Days did not have a working telephone at the time. He also said that he saw Shanon with some bruises around her neck that his mother told him Brian had put there.