|Updated: 4/26/2012 8:58 pm
||Published: 4/26/2012 8:55 pm
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court granted a new hearing Thursday for a death-row inmate convicted in a 1997 double murder, ruling that some of his claims, including potential DNA testing problems, should be reviewed.
The state's highest court sided in part Timothy Howard's attorneys, who had argued that prosecutors failed to disclose information that shows potential errors were made during DNA testing. The results of those tests helped convict Howard in the slayings of Brian Day and his wife, whom Howard's attorneys said were his friends.
Prosecutors said Brian Day's blood was found on a pair of boots that were linked to Howard through DNA evidence. They also argued that other evidence linked Howard to the crime, including testimony about the boots from Howard's ex-wife.
But defense attorneys said the DNA evidence was central to prosecutors' case and noted there were no eyewitness accounts, confession, murder weapon or evidence placing Howard at the crime scenes in southwest Arkansas' Little River County.
The Supreme Court agreed that the DNA evidence played an important role in the case and ordered a lower court to hold an evidentiary hearing to review the defense claims about sloppy DNA testing.
"The DNA evidence from the work boots was all important in linking Howard to the murder of Brian Day, and so the possibility that the DNA testing was flawed would support his contention at trial that he did not commit the murders and that the work boots were an attempt to frame him," Associate Justice Robert Brown wrote in the opinion.
The state Supreme Court also said the lower court could look into Howard's claim that a report about his abusive childhood was withheld from him.
Howard's attorney didn't return a phone message seeking comment about the ruling Thursday. A spokesman for the state's attorney general said the office respected the court's decision.
Howard's lawyers have said he was in Texarkana the morning of the killings and challenged the DNA evidence, arguing that it was mishandled.
"The prosecution never disclosed, and the jury never heard, that the DNA testing had been so sloppily done and so badly botched that it failed to prove anything," one of Howard's attorneys, Scott Braden, wrote in a court document filed before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.
Authorities found Brian Day's body in a locked U-Haul in Ogden in December 1997. He had been beaten and shot in the head. Authorities later found his wife's body under a mattress in a bedroom closet. She has been identified in court documents as Shannon and Shanon.
Their son, who was only 7 months old at the time, was found crying in a bag under a pile of clothes. The bag was zipped shut and the boy had a cord tied around his neck.
Less than a week later, Howard was arrested in connection with their deaths. He was convicted in 1999.
Prison records show that Howard is being held at the state's maximum-security unit at Varner.
Howard does not have a pending execution scheduled. Arkansas last executed an inmate in 2005.
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