DURHAM, NC - Citing misconduct by a former prosecutor, Mike Nifong, and a Durham police detective, Daryl Dowdy, a judge ordered a new trial for Darryl Anthony Howard who spent 19 years in prison for two murders. Howard always maintained his innocence in the 1991 double homicide of Doris Washington and her 13-year-old daughter.
The nude bodies of the two were found inside their apartment in at a public housing complex.
He was arrested nearly a year after the crime occurred although there was never any physical evidence linking him to it.
A North Carolina district court reversed a double murder conviction on both prosecutorial misconduct and new DNA evidence pointing to other suspects.
A state appeals court denied prosecutors' request to keep Howard behind bars until they try him again.
According to a report by The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh, "The case - taken up by the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that has freed 18 wrongly convicted people from death row in its 22 years - casts a spotlight again on the Durham justice system. It renews questions about the integrity and fairness of prosecutors and police investigators in a city that took a bruising from its handling of the Duke lacrosse case."
The Duke lacrosse case was a 2006 criminal case resulting from what proved to be a false accusation of rape made against three members of the men's lacrosse team at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Through open file discovery the Innocence Project uncovered a police memo, "That reveals that Durham police received a detailed tip from a confidential informant four days after the murders that the crimes involved sexual assault and the victims were murdered by more than one perpetrator - information that then prosecutor Mike Nifong never turned over to Howard's attorneys".
The Project also said DNA testing before trial excluded Howard as the source of biological evidence recovered from the daughter, and new DNA testing has excluded him as the source of semen found in the mother.
The prosecutorial misconduct in Howard's case casts doubt over the entire Durham justice system since it was then prosecutor Mike Nifong who was disbarred and held in contempt for his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case, according to the Innocence Project.
“...one of the most horrendous prosecution”
In his order, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson wrote, "It is undisputed that there was and is no physical evidence connecting Howard to this crime scene or to these victims" and called Howard's prosecution one of the "most horrendous" he's seen in a 34-year career.
Hudson found that prosecutors withheld evidence and a police officer misled the jury.
According to the report by the The News & Observer sperm was found on the teen and collected in an investigative rape kit. An autopsy showed that her mother had been sexually assaulted. Howard was charged in the homicides, but DNA tests excluded him as a match to the sexual assault evidence collected.
At trial, Durham Police Detective Dowdy testified he never suspected the murders involved sexual assaults and that he never investigated them as such despite clear physical evidence of sexual assault to both victims.
Nifong, the assistant district attorney at the time repeated that claim to the jury and suggested the sperm on the teen was the result of consensual sex before the murder.
But the claims by both the prosecutor and investigator were contradicted by a police memo that Nifong and Dowdy had in their files, a document uncovered within the past decade by Innocence Project researchers and Jim Cooney, a Charlotte attorney working with them.
A few days after the bodies were found, police got a confidential tip that a drug gang, called the New York Boys, had murdered Doris Washington over an $8,000 drug debt and further the tipster said the killers raped the mother before killing her, "And that the daughter was raped and killed after unwittingly walking in on the scene".
Recent tests have linked the samples to a convicted felon with a history of assaulting women.
One of Howard's attorneys, Seema Saifee, said she hopes prosecutors will choose not to seek a new trial, and instead focus on prosecuting the alternate suspects implicated by DNA tests.
Current prosecutors have indicated they will retry Howard.