Darryl Howard will be tried again

In March, I posted a long report on a likely wrongful-conviction case in Durham, N.C. Darryl Howard was convicted of killing a mother and her daughter based entirely on testimony from eyewitnesses, many of whom have since changed or recanted their stories. More important was what was not at Howard’s trial — critical evidence pointing to another killer. Though there’s ample evidence that the two women were sexually assaulted before they were killed, the prosecution insisted that wasn’t the case, likely because DNA testing on the semen found in one of the women excluded Howard. (Testing on the DNA found in the second woman since then also excludes Howard.)

In May, North Carolina Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson overturned Howard’s conviction with a blistering opinion that excoriated the police and prosecutors for withholding the evidence and for making false statements to jurors. The prosecutor in the case was then-Assistant District Attorney Mike Nifong, who of course would go on to win election as district attorney, then be removed from office after the Duke lacrosse debacle for withholding evidence and making false statements to a judge. Nifong’s protege and successor Tracey Cline was later removed from office herself, again after multiple allegations of misconduct, including withholding evidence.

I noted in the original article that the case could have been an opportunity to review prior convictions in the perpetually troubled Durham DA’s office. An upcoming election also presented an opportunity for Durham voters to put some new blood in office. Instead, the voters elected Roger Echols, an heir to the Nifong legacy. Tracey Cline was Nifong’s top deputy. Echols was Cline’s.

Not only is the DA’s office trying Howard again, they’re also fighting to make sure Howard remains in prison until that trial happens. Fortunately, Hudson isn’t having any of it.

Judge Orlando Hudson said Friday he intends to release 52-year-old Derrick “Darryl” Howard on unsecured bond unless he’s blocked by a prosecution appeal to the state Court of Appeals.

It’s unclear when a ruling might be issued, but Howard’s defense attorney, Jim Cooney, said it could be as soon as Friday.

Hudson ordered a new trial in May after ruling there was no physical evidence connecting Howard, who is serving an 80-year prison sentence, to the 1991 drug-related deaths of Doris Washington and her 13-year-old daughter, Nishonda.

Howard was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder in 1995. . . .

Hudson called the case against Howard by former Durham prosecutor Mike Nifong “horrendous.” . . .

Howard’s wife of 15 years, Nannie Howard, said after the hearing that she’s always had faith in her husband and is hopeful that he’ll be released.

“I’m overjoyed, happy, elated. I’m nervous – all those wonderful emotions that come to play in a moment like this,” she said. “But at the end of the day and through it all, I knew my husband was innocent and I am just so thankful beyond words that I can express right now that he is on his way home.”

Howard can’t go home just yet, though. The prosecution has won a temporary stay while it appeals the decision to grant Howard bond.

You can’t help but wonder what sort of calamity needs to happen for things to change in Durham.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko · July 11