Hearing over prosecution’s misconduct could exonerate NC man

Darryl Howard, center, is in court Aug. 29 seeking his freedom after more than 20 years in prison. (Tommy Harris/WNCN Photo)

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Evidence of prosecutorial misconduct that could exonerate a man who has spent 21 years in prison for a double murder will be at center stage during a hearing in a North Carolina courtroom this week.

Two years ago, a judge threw out Darryl Howard’s 1995 conviction for the 1991 murder of a mother and her 13-year-old daughter and arson of their home but an appeals court ruled a new hearing was needed. He remains imprisoned.

The hearing started Monday and could highlight whether evidence that could have proved Howard’s innocence was withheld by prosecutors and police.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said in 2014 he remembered observing Howard’s murder trial as it was under way. He called it “a horrendous prosecution” that ignored that “there was extremely credible, strong evidence that Mr. Howard did not commit” the crime.

The case was tried by then Assistant District Attorney Mike Nifong, who was later disbarred and held in contempt for his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case.

Nifong told CBS North Carolina’s David Hurst he expects to testify Wednesday.

“I really don’t want to make any statements until after I testify and I probably won’t make any then but there’s no point in making any statements at all today because I haven’t testified and I won’t until tomorrow,” Nifong said.

Nifong was the lead prosecutor in Howard’s case.

Howard’s attorney claims the jury at the time did not know about evidence that implicated another man.

There is no physical evidence against him. There’s no hair, there’s no DNA, there are no fingerprints anywhere. There is no property from the apartment that was found on Mr. Howard. There is no evidence Mr. Howard was even in the apartment,” said attorney James Cooney.

Durham prosecutors are asking the judge to uphold the conviction, pointing to witnesses who place Howard at the scene.

“The DNA did not match Howard, but there was sufficient evidence for each element of the crime to uphold that,” Stormy Ellis, Durham County assitant district attorney said in court.

The hearing is expected to last three days.

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