The Arkansas Supreme Court has ordered a further hearing on the DNA claim of a Death Row inmate, Timothy Howard, that state suppression of critical problems with DNA evidence prejudiced his fair trial.
Howard was convicted in Little River County in 1998 of the slayings of Brian and Shannon Day and sentenced to die. His latest appeal detailed numerous problems in DNA evidence — from a hair and blood gathered in the investigation — and that the state withheld information about problems with the evidence. The Supreme Court agreed important information had been withheld, whether purposely or inadvertently, and that it had a bearing in his conviction.
The Supreme Court sai, it could not decide as a matter of law whether Howard had raised the issue in a timely fashion because some of the medical evidence was available at trial. It ordered the Little River Circuit Court to consider whether Howard’s attorneys had exercised due diligence in seeking relief, based on what information was available, when it was available and what information was concealed.
The Supreme Court also addressed seven other pieces of evidence helpful to Howard that the defense said had not been properly considered. In all but one case, the court said the issues had been adequately considered, but found in the case of some physical evidence — wood particles that didn’t match the prosecution theory of the case — might be material and should also be considered for admission. The Court also wants the court to consider the state’s failure to provide information that showed Howard had been abused as a child so that it could be used in mitigating his punishment during that phase of the trial.
This case, has been written about extensively by the Times‘ Mara Leveritt, most recently in a report on this coming decision.
There have been doubts about the Howard case from the first. The Supreme Court, in his original appeal, split 4-3 on affirming it. The three dissenters strongly challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and the majority’s opinion, which relied on Howard’s strange behavior as the most incriminating evidence.