LITTLE ROCK — The state Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new hearing in the case of a man sentenced to die for a 1997 double homicide in Little River County.

LITTLE ROCK — The state Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new hearing in the case of a man sentenced to die for a 1997 double homicide in Little River County.

The court sent Timothy Lamont Howard’s case back to Little River County Circuit Court for an evidentiary hearing to consider Howard’s claim that prosecutors withheld key evidence from his lawyers before and during his trial.

Howard was convicted of two counts of capital murder in the deaths of Brian and Shanon Day. The three were friends and were all involved in using and selling illegal drugs, mainly methamphetamine, according to court filings.

Brian Day’s body was found in a U-Haul trailer in Ogden on Dec. 13, 1997, and his wife’s body was found in the closet of the couple’s home in Ashdown later the same day.

At Howard’s trial in December 1999, jurors heard a DNA analyst testify that boots found 2 1/2 miles from the murder scene contained hairs that were a likely match with Howard, and that blood on the boots was a likely match with Brian Day.

Howard, now 42, argued on appeal that the DNA analyst’s handwritten notes showed that errors occurred during testing of the evidence, but prosecutors withheld those notes from the jury and the defense.

Howard also argued that the state did not provide the defense with a police report detailing an incident of abuse that he suffered as a child — a report he claimed would have shown he had a violent childhood and could have been considered by the jury as a mitigating circumstance that weighed against imposing the death penalty.

The state attorney general’s office argued that the lab notes would not have changed the outcome of the trial and that if Howard wanted to introduce the police report during his trial he could have done so himself.

In its unanimous opinion Thursday, the Supreme Court said Howard’s claims merit an evidentiary hearing in circuit court.

“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,” Justice Robert Brown wrote in the opinion.

The court also said that a defendant has the duty to investigate matters relevant to his or her defense, but the state also has a duty to provide the defense with relevant evidence to which it has access.

The police report on the incident from Howard’s childhood was in the possession of the same agency that investigated the murders of Brian and Shannon Day, so Howard’s claim that prosecutors had access to it “appears, on its face, to be reasonable,” Brown wrote.

Justice Donald Corbin recused himself from the case. Little Rock lawyer Ronald Hope served in his place as a special appointed justice.