Local News

Mike Nifong awaits his return to court

Posted August 29, 2016 12:55 p.m. EDT
Updated August 29, 2016 6:15 p.m. EDT

— Discredited former District Attorney Mike Nifong sat in a conference room in the Durham County Courthouse on Monday, waiting to be called as a witness in a man's effort to clear himself of a double-murder more than two decades ago.

Nifong, who was disbarred for his handling of sex assault allegations against three member of the Duke University men's lacrosse team a decade ago, faces more allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the case of Darryl Anthony Howard.

"Somebody believes I have relevant testimony to this, and I’m going to give it just like anyone else would," Nifong said. "I’ll get on the stand and tell the truth and make of it what they wish."

Howard, now 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 Washington. 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 in the case in May 2014, ruling that Nifong and a police detective withheld evidence suggesting that Doris Washington was raped and killed by a New York street gang for which she dealt drugs – evidence that could have cleared Howard.

DNA evidence also implicated another man, not Howard, in the crime.

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.

At the start of a hearing that is supposed to run at least through Tuesday, Durham County Assistant District Attorney Stormy Ellis said jurors in the 1995 trial knew that Howard's DNA wasn't at the scene, but they also heard from witnesses who placed him at Doris Washington's apartment on the day she and her daughter were killed.

"They listened, they looked at the witnesses, they evaluated the credibility of the witnesses and they came back, even though his DNA wasn't there, that he was guilty," Ellis said.

Charlotte attorney Jim Cooney, who is representing Howard, said that recent advances in DNA testing showed that two other men had sex with Doris Washington and her daughter in the hours before their deaths. Nifong knew the women had been assaulted, Cooney said, but he never turned over a police memo containing a tip about it to Howard's original defense attorneys and he even argued at trial that the case didn't involve rape.

"We know we have DNA from more than one person in this crime, and we know that none of that DNA is Mr. Howard's," Cooney said. "The DNA validates the confidential informant's tip that there were perpetrators – multiple people – not just one, which was the state's theory at trial."

If Hudson again rules that Howard deserves a new trial, prosecutors will have to determine whether to proceed with the case or dismiss the charges against him.