Misconduct of Prosecutor Mike Nifong, Disbarred and Held in Contempt for his Actions in the Duke Lacrosse Case, Contributed to Reversal
Contact: Paul Cates,
(Charlotte, NC; March 11, 2014) – A North Carolina district court today reversed the double murder conviction of Darryl Anthony Howard based on new DNA evidence and prosecutorial misconduct. The court found that Howard, who has served nearly 20 years, is entitled to a new trial because of the new DNA evidence pointing to other suspects and because the prosecutor, Mike Nifong, violated Howard’s constitutional rights by failing to turn over exculpatory evidence and soliciting false and misleading testimony from Detective D.L. Dowdy.
“We are grateful that the court has moved quickly to correct the injustice to Mr. Howard who has served nearly 20 years for a crime for which he should have never been convicted,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Given the prosecutorial misconduct we have uncovered in this case and his history in the Duke Lacrosse case, it is clear that Mike Nifong too often put winning before justice. To ensure that other people weren’t wrongly convicted by his misconduct, the state should conduct a review of all the cases he worked on during his many years at the Durham County District Attorney’s office.”
Howard always maintained his innocence of the 1991 double homicide of Doris W., and her 13-year-old daughter, Nichanda. He was arrested for the crime nearly a year after it occurred. There was never any physical evidence linking him to the crime, and DNA testing before trial excluded Howard as the source of sperm recovered from Nichanda. The prosecution relied on the testimony of numerous witnesses who gave varying accounts of having seen Howard threaten Doris shortly before the murders. The most damning of these was a prostitute with a lengthy criminal record whom Dowdy threatened with a murder prosecution if she didn’t testify against Howard.
Despite the clear evidence of sexual assault – two women found nude on one bed, one with blood and a laceration in her vagina and the second – a 13-year-old girl – with sperm in her anus and vagina – Dowdy testified that the crimes were never investigated and never even suspected to involve a sexual assault. However, through open file discovery, the Innocence Project uncovered a police memo that reveals that Durham police received a detailed tip from a confidential informant four days after the murders that the crimes involved sexual assault and the victims were murdered by more than one perpetrator because Doris owed $8000 to drug dealers from “either Philadelphia or New York.” A note on the first page of the memo reads: “Dowdy There may be something to this. I don’t remember any public info on the rape. EES.”
In his summation, Nifong told the jury that “despite the fact that this case was never investigated as a sexual assault and it was never suspected to be a sexual assault [defense counsel] wants to make it a sexual assault and why, because he knows the defendant never had sex with Nishonda or Doris. So, if he makes you believe that the killer was somebody who had sex with him [sic] then obviously it couldn’t be the defendant.” To account for the sperm recovered from 13-year-old Nishonda’s anus, Dowdy testified, without explanation, that Nishonda was away from home with her boyfriend for almost a week prior to her murder. Nifong argued to the jury that “[h]ow [that sperm] got there I can’t tell you [but] I would submit to you that a 13-year-old who can be gone for five days with her boyfriend is not somebody with whom sex is going to be an unknown subject.”
“This case offers a tragic reminder of the harm that is caused when prosecutors cast aside their ethical responsibilities,” said James P. Cooney, III, a partner with Womble Carlyle, which is assisting the Innocence Project in Mr. Howard’s representation. “Sadly, Mr. Howard has lost some of the best years of his life while the real perpetrators have gone free.”
In reversing Howard’s conviction, the court found that Nifong’s and Dowdy’s misconduct violated Howard’s constitutional rights. He also ruled that the new DNA evidence alone would be a sufficient basis for reversing the conviction.
Post-conviction DNA testing on Doris’ rape kit produced a male DNA profile that also excluded Howard. That DNA profile was entered in the CODIS DNA database and hit to J. Jones, a career criminal with over 35 prior convictions, who was 15 years old at the time of the crimes. When questioned as to how his DNA could have been found in Doris, Jones falsely claimed that he never met Doris and had consensual sex with Nishonda the night before her murder. Post-conviction DNA testing was also conducted on Nishonda’s vaginal and anal swabs. Testing identified a male profile that excluded Howard and did not match Jones. Because the DNA profile found in Nishonda’s rape kit was only a partial profile, it could not be uploaded into CODIS to identify the real assailant.
“Given that there is not a shred of credible evidence against Mr. Howard, we are hopeful that the prosecution will agree to dismiss the charges and not put Mr. Howard through another trial,” said Seema Saifee, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project.
The Innocence Project will ask the court to release Howard on his own recognizance while he awaits a decision from the prosecutor as to whether the case will be retried.
A copy of the court’s decision is available at