Judge plans to grant bond for Durham double murder convict awaiting new trial
Posted July 11, 2014
Durham, N.C. — A Superior Court judge in Durham is considering bail for a man imprisoned 20 years after a double murder conviction that was marked by misconduct by Durham police and the former district attorney who falsely prosecuted the Duke University lacrosse case.
Judge Orlando Hudson said Friday he intends to release 52-year-old Darryl Anthony 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 Washington.
A jury in 1995 found Howard guilty of two counts of second-degree murder.
Durham County Assistant District Attorney Stormy Ellis asked Hudson not to grant bond, citing numerous arrests and convictions prior to 1995, including breaking and entering and armed robbery convictions. He also has a number of prion infractions, including fighting.
"He has shown himself to be a definite threat to the community in Durham," Ellis said.
But Hudson called the case, taken to trial by former Durham prosecutor Mike Nifong, "horrendous."
Attorney Barry Scheck, also representing Howard, said the evidence was weak, pointing to recently discovered evidence that could have cleared his client in the crimes.
DNA from rape kits performed on both Doris Washington and Nishonda excluded Howard as a match, and new DNA tests showed samples from Doris Washington's rape kit matched a convicted felon with a history of assaulting women.
Also, during Howard’s trial, police detective D.L. Dowdy testified that he never suspected the murders involved sexual assault, a claim Nifong repeated to the jury. But a police memo from four days after the murders, uncovered by researchers with the New York-based Innocence Project, contradicted those claims.
"We know in the prosecution file that there was a smoking-pistol memo by an informant," Scheck told Hudson. "The new DNA evidence is extraordinary. The smoking-pistol memo that should have been disclosed is extraordinary."
Nifong made national headlines in 2006 for prosecuting three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of raping a woman. He was disbarred a year later for his handling of the case and was later found in contempt for making false statements to a judge.
"Mike Nifong has been disbarred and sanctioned for his conduct in the Duke lacrosse case for suppressing exculpatory evidence, and now we have proof he did it in this case," Scheck said.
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."