News 03.20.14

New DNA Points to Innocence of North Carolina Man

The Innocence Project filed legal papers today urging a Durham County court to overturn the murder and arson convictions of Darryl Anthony Howard based on new DNA and undisclosed evidence pointing to his innocence. In November 1991, a mother and her 13-year-old daughter were found nude and strangled on a bed in their burned apartment. Sperm was found in the girl’s anus and injuries to the mother indicated she had been sexually assaulted. The medical examiner concluded that the daughter, Nishonda, died as a result of strangulation and the mother, Doris W., died from blunt force trauma to her abdomen. A Durham fire investigator determined that the fire had been intentionally set.

 

DNA testing before trial excluded Howard as the source of the sperm from the daughter, but Assistant District Attorney Mike Nifong told the jury that investigators never suspected either victim was sexually assaulted much less that sexual assaults were involved in the homicides. However, new evidence never disclosed to the defense reveals that just days after the murders the state was told that the crimes involved sexual assault and the victims were murdered by more than one perpetrator who were drug dealers collecting an outstanding debt. New DNA testing points to two different men — neither of whom was Howard — as the real perpetrators. One of these men has been identified through the CODIS DNA data bank and has an extensive criminal record involving drug crimes and assaults.

 

Almost a year after the crimes, police arrested Howard. At trial, no eyewitness was produced who claimed to have seen Howard commit the crime and no physical evidence linked Howard to the crime scene. Two witnesses claimed to have seen Howard argue with and threaten Doris the day before the crime, but these accounts varied. One of these witnesses recanted his statement after trial, signing a sworn affidavit that Detective Darryl Dowdy coerced him into implicating Howard. The other, Roneka Jackson, was paid $10,000 from a state compensation fund for her testimony. Five months after Howard’s trial, Jackson was murdered with the same modus operandi used in these crimes. Jackson was choked and her body was set on fire by members of the New York Boys, a drug gang that was known for dealing drugs in the victims’ neighborhood. The New York Boys was the drug gang Howard’s defense counsel suggested were probably responsible for the murders.

 

Howard did not deny being near the crime scene on the night of the murders. He and his then-girlfriend testified at trial that they were at a friend’s apartment on the night of the murders and went to an apartment near the victims’ home when they saw smoke coming from Doris’ apartment.

 

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. Nifong, who was subsequently disbarred and held in contempt for his misconduct in the Duke Lacrosse case, repeated those claims in his closing arguments to the jury. 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.”

 

In papers filed today, the Innocence Project presents newly discovered DNA evidence that demonstrates that Howard did not commit these crimes. New DNA testing of Doris’ rape kit identified the male DNA profile of J. Jones, a career criminal with more than 35 prior convictions. 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.

 

Through open file discovery, the Innocence Project discovered a memo that was never disclosed to Howard’s trial counsel that is completely consistent with the new DNA testing. The memo 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 $8,000 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.”

 

Read a

copy of the motion

filed today and

view the exhibits

.

 

Read more from the

Washington Post

and

today’s press release

.

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