In November 1991 a mother and her 13-year-old daughter were found nude and dead in their Durham, North Carolina burned-out apartment. Investigators determined that arson was the cause of the fire but along with prosecutors discounted the theory that sexual assault factored into their deaths even though the bodies appeared to have been placed on their stomachs in the same bed and showed definite signs of sexual trauma. Darryl Anthony Howard was charged with the double homicide and arson nearly a year later, and a jury convicted him of the same in 1995, and he was sentenced to 80 years in prison (40 for each victim). Some 19 years later, lawyers (including those working with the “Innocent Project”) are now challenging Howard’s convictions based upon newly discovered evidence including DNA results which show that swabs taken from the victims match a different known violent offender (Howard was initially excluded as a source of the semen found in the vaginal and anal swabs, and lawyers believe this is why the prosecutors downplayed the value of DNA evidence). The post-conviction lawyers also appear to have established that the new evidence includes instances of severe prosecutorial and police misconduct involving their failure to disclose the mother’s association with known drug dealers and a gang called the “New York Boys.” The lawyers contend that the mother and members of the gang sold drugs directly out of the mother’s apartment. They have produced evidence that the daughter shared her concern over her mother’s drug dealing with other concerned citizens and the police and prosecutors were aware of this evidence. Based on this information and other revelations concerning prosecutors and police, Judge Orlando Hudson vacated all the convictions against Howard; the judge called the 1995 trial a “horrendous prosecution.” The chief prosecutor in the case was Mike Nifong who also handled the famous Duke Lacrosse rape cases in 2006. He was disbarred for his gross misconduct in those cases. Hudson acted to release Howard pending a potential new trial however on July 16th; the North Carolina Supreme Court temporarily stayed that decision pending further arguments from the state and the defense. The defense appears to have established a basis for a new trial if not a complete permanent vacation of the convictions. The state seems to be stalling Howard’s release citing Hudson’s decision not to conduct a fact-finding Hearing prior to his decision to vacate the convictions. However, this is not the first time a similar conviction has been vacated without such a hearing in the state. Meanwhile, Howard remains jailed.
UPDATE: July 3, 2015: The state of North Carolina appealed Judge Hanson’s decision to vacate Howard’s convictions to the state’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court thereby suspending Howard’s freedom until a decision is released. The Innocence Project reports:
[“More than 13 months have passed since Judge Hudson overturned Howard’s conviction and ordered him released, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals has yet to rule on Judge Hudson’s decision. A decision could come as soon as July 7, but it could be months longer. In the meantime, Howard sits behind bars, an innocent man who awaits his very own independence day”.]
From our perspective, we hope that a decision can be reached soon, and it appears to us, that Judge Hanson’s order releasing Howard should be affirmed.
UPDATE: The state dismissed the charges against Howard. He has since brought a lawsuit against the government claiming that his due process rights were violated.