Two days after a judge vacated two murder convictions that kept Darryl Anthony Howard behind bars for more than two decades, the Durham district attorney filed court documents Friday to dismiss the case.
Roger Echols, who inherited the case after Innocence Project attorneys brought forward new DNA evidence and allegations of prosecutorial misconduct against former district attorneys, decided not to retry Howard for two 25-year-old homicides that the 54-year-old man has always maintained he had nothing to do with.
Howard was released from prison Wednesday after a three-day hearing in Durham County Superior Court.
At the close, after attorneys for Howard highlighted DNA evidence that showed the sperm of another man in one of the victims, Judge Orlando Hudson vacated verdicts that a jury returned in 1995.
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It was not immediately clear whether police will reopen an investigation into the deaths of Doris Washington, 29, and her daughter Nishonda, 13, who were found naked and dead on a bed in a smoke-filled public housing apartment in 1991.
In a three-day hearing this week, Barry Scheck, the co-director of the N.Y.-based Innocence Project; Seema Saifee, a staff attorney for the Innocence Project, and Jim Cooney, a Charlotte attorney who helped with the case, offered a theory about what happened to the mother and daughter different from what prosecutors presented at trial in 1995.
They argued that despite what police and prosecutors told the jury in 1995, Washington and her daughter had been sexually assaulted and murdered before someone set fire to their apartment.
Investigators had DNA evidence at trial that had been collected from the mother and daughter from sexual assault kits that were tested by the state crime lab more than two decades ago.
When the tests excluded Howard as a DNA match, Mike Nifong – an assistant district attorney at the time who since has been disbarred for his prosecutorial misconduct in the Duke lacrosse case – and a lead detective said the case had never been investigated as a sexual assault.
But a second look at the case by the Innocence Project showed that police and prosecutors had a police memo in their files that contradicted that.
“A reasonable juror would find beyond reasonable doubt that here is a reasonable doubt to the guilt of Darryl Howard in these cases,” Hudson said before vacating the convictions Wednesday.
Echols said as much in his formal notice of dismissal that was filed Friday.