As Darryl Anthony Howard continues his quest for freedom from two murder convictions that have kept him behind bars for more than two decades, another man whose DNA was found in one of the victims refused to answer questions under oath Tuesday.
Jermeck Jones, the man whose DNA links him to one of the victims, cited his constitutional right against incriminating himself when called to testify Tuesday.
“On the advice of counsel,” Jones said, while Durham attorney Lisa Williams stood close by, “I’m declining to answer the question based on the Fifth Amendment.”
That did not stop defense attorneys from playing a videotape of an interview conducted by Durham police with Jones in 2011, after he was ordered to provide a DNA sample.
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An investigation into Howard’s claims of innocence led Innocence Project staff to take a new look at old evidence in the murders of Doris Washington, 29, and her 13-year-old daughter Nishonda.
The mother and daughter were found naked and dead on a bed in 1991 inside a burned apartment at a Durham public housing project.
In a case that could bring disbarred Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong back to the courtroom to talk about his prosecution of Howard, attorneys are arguing 25 years later about whether the mother and daughter were sexually assaulted.
Though Durham police collected evidence for rape kits shortly after the bodies were discovered, Nifong, the lead prosecutor on the case, argued at the 1995 trial that police had not considered the two to be sexual assault victims.
In raising questions about his case, though, Howard’s attorneys have brought forward forensic experts this week who contend a sexual assault, indeed, took place.
Howard’s DNA was not found at the crime scene. At the 1995 trial, prosecutors relied on witnesses who told police they had seen him at the apartment that day.
While playing the videotape of the 2011 police interview with Jones in the courtroom on Tuesday, Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, questioned one of the Durham detectives who was there.
Jones had refused to talk with police about the homicides, saying he did not want to talk without an attorney present.
Nevertheless, the investigators talked to him about why they were going to collect his DNA – to test it against evidence in the homicide cases.
“There ain’t nothing to say, I don’t got nothing to do with that, man. I’m saying I don’t know how my DNA came up here on this, I don’t know anything about that,” Jones said in the interrogation video.
Scheck said he could not understand why the investigators who had Jones in the interview room did not quickly follow up on inconsistencies in his statement.
The defense team also has asked the judge to inquire with the state about why it took five years for tape from that interview to be shared with Howard.
The hearing is scheduled to continue on Wednesday morning with more testimony about the DNA and then closing arguments from prosecutors and the defense team about why the judge should consider that evidence to grant or reject Howard’s request for a new trial.
Nifong, who was at the courthouse on Monday morning in response to a subpoena, could be called to testify late Wednesday or Thursday.