Wonderful news out of Arkansas today! Here’s a brief summary, written by our friend Mara Leveritt:
NEW TRIAL ORDERED FOR TIM HOWARD! Circuit Judge Charles Yeargan today ordered a new trial for Tim Howard, a Little River County man who was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murders of Brian and Shannon Day.
The Arkansas Supreme Court had sent Howard’s case back to the lower court after finding that evidence concerning DNA testing that might have changed the outcome of Howard’s trial was withheld from defense attorneys.
Today in Yeargan’s court, prosecuting attorney Brian Cheshire agreed that the information had been withheld, though he argued and the judge agreed that the material had been intentionally denied.
Only one witness, the lab technician who conducted the original DNA tests, testified at today’s hearing. Charity Holland acknowledged that at least four mistakes occurred during the tests on hairs that were said to be from Howard, and that this number of errors in a single case was rare.
However, she maintained that the tests were immediately done over using new DNA material, and that the results submitted to the state were accurate. At Howard’s trial, she testified that the hairs and blood taken from Howard were a “match.”
Yeargan had to consider whether the information that was withheld would have been exculpatory for Howard or used to impeach the state’s evidence. He decided that, it could have been “impeaching.”
How a jury would have interpreted the information about the testing errors if it had been presented at Howard’s trial, and if the defense had had an opportunity to cross-examine her about it, Yeargan said he could not know.
However, he added, “Nobody was on the same playing field.” For that reason, and “in the interest of justice,” the judge ruled that he was ordering the new trial.