Local News

After 21 years in prison, 'I'm going home'

Posted August 31, 2016 12:40 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2016 5:57 p.m. EDT

— "I'm going home," Darryl Anthony Howard told cheering supporters on Wednesday afternoon after a Durham judge threw out a double-murder conviction and ordered a new trial for him.

Howard, 54, was discharged from custody on Wednesday without condition after serving 21 years in prison. He was convicted in 1995 on two counts of second-degree murder for the 1991 deaths of Doris Washington and her 13-year-old daughter, Nishonda, but he has maintained his innocence. Judge Orlando Hudson agreed with Howard's attorneys that there was reasonable doubt that Howard committed the crimes and ordered that he be tried again.

"A reasonable juror, a reasonable juror would find beyond reasonable doubt that here is a reasonable doubt to the guilt of Darryl Howard in these cases," Hudson said. "The court will vacate these criminal convictions. The court will discharge Mr. Howard from custody. The court will order a new trial in these cases.”

Hudson said that DNA evidence unavailable at the time of Howard's 1995 murder trial would have created a reasonable doubt for jurors who convicted him.

"You always have to have faith," Howard said. "You always got to keep fighting. It took a long time to get to this point."

Wednesday's decision stemmed from a 2012 meeting between a private investigator for the Innocence Project and a man involved with Washington before her death. The investigator wasn't convinced that Jermeck Jones was being truthful about his relationship with Washington after his DNA was found on the bodies of the two women.

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 Jones.

Jones appeared at Tuesday's hearing, but he repeatedly refused to answer questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Hudson first 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 this week's hearing so that attorneys for the state could present evidence to show why the convictions against Howard should stand.

Barry Scheck, who defended Howard at the hearing, said he expects that his client has seen the inside of a courtroom for the last time.

"The DNA evidence alone is so overwhelming that our friends in the prosecutors' office, when they reflect on this case, they won’t retry it," Scheck said.