Local News

Ex-convict refuses to answer questions about Durham double homicide

Posted August 30, 2016 5:11 p.m. EDT

— The defense attorneys for a Durham man who has spent two decades in prison for two murders he says he didn't commit tried Tuesday to shift attention to a man who has never been charged in the case.

Darryl Anthony Howard, 54, is serving an 80-year prison sentence after was convicted in 1995 of two counts of second-degree murder in the 1991 deaths of Doris Washington and her 13-year-old daughter, Nishonda. The mother had been beaten to death, while the daughter had been strangled, authorities said, and their apartment was set ablaze.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson ordered a new trial for Howard in May 2014, ruling that the prosecutor and a police detective withheld evidence suggesting that Washington was raped and killed by a New York street gang for which she dealt drugs.

The state Court of Appeals reversed Hudson's ruling in April, however, ordering a hearing so that attorneys for the state could present evidence to show why the convictions against Howard should stand.

DNA evidence showed two different men had sex with Washington and her daughter before they were killed. A comparison with DNA in a nationwide database several years ago identified one of those men as Jermeck Jones.

Jones, 41, has a criminal record dating to the mid-1990s, including convictions on drug charges and assault on a female. Howard's attorneys subpoenaed him and asked him about any knowledge of or involvement in the 1991 killings.

He repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and walked out of the courtroom after about five minutes.

Howard's attorneys also played portions of a videotaped interview Jones gave to Durham police when he was arrested on an outstanding warrant and ordered to give a DNA sample to confirm the match from the nationwide database.

Jones repeatedly said in the video that he knew nothing about the deaths of Washington and her daughter, but Howard's lawyers said inconsistencies in his statements should have raised red flags with police.

A forensic pathology expert also testified Tuesday that evidence showed Washington had been sexually assaulted, a fact that was never revealed to the jury in Howard's trial and that corroborated a tip police received during their investigation.

Howard's attorneys argue that Mike Nifong, the former Durham County district attorney who was disbarred for his handling of sexual assault allegations against three Duke University lacrosse players a decade ago, intentionally kept the information about Washington's rape from the jury in Howard's trial.

Nifong is expected to testify at some point in the hearing, which will continue Wednesday.

Durham County Assistant District Attorney Stormy Ellis argued that the DNA evidence is irrelevant, noting that jurors knew Howard's DNA wasn't at the crime scene but that jurors convicted him anyway based on eyewitness testimony that put him near the victims' home that morning.