A federal jury has awarded a Black man $6 million in damages after he was wrongfully convicted of murdering a mother and daughter in North Carolina.
Darryl Howard spent 23 years in prison after he was sentenced to 80 years in 1995 for the deaths of young mother Doris Washington, 29, and her teenage daughter, Nishonda, 13. According to Insider, Washington and her daughter were found face down after being beaten and sexually assaulted in the apartment, which was also set on fire. Howard was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and arson.
In 2016, Howard’s conviction was vacated after a judge ruled that there was police and prosecutorial misconduct, according to News & Observer. Howard was never retried and was pardoned by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in 2020. In 2017, he sued former Durham police detective Darrell Dowdy, the city and others.
Last Wednesday, the jury found that Dowdy fabricated evidence in the case and trial. Howard’s attorneys accuse Dowdy of sharing information with witnesses, including a drug-addicted prostitute named Angela Oliver, in order to craft false testimonies. Oliver ended up recanting her testimony in a deposition in August.
The attorneys also claim Dowdy made up a story about Washington’s daughter having consensual sex before her death and didn’t follow through on Washington’s possible connection to a gang called the New York Boys that sold drugs in her apartment complex. Further DNA testing requested by Howard in 2010 linked the sperm found in Washington’s daughter to a teenage member of the street gang.
Another key witness used in Howard’s trial was Roneka Jackson, a confidential witness with ties to the New York Boys. Jackson’s role and relationship to the gang was never disclosed to Howard until after Jackson was murdered by gang members, News & Observer reports.
From News & Observer:
When Howard sought DNA testing on the sperm found in Nishonda around 2003, Dowdy knew that it would be favorable to Howard and took other steps to cover up Oliver’s fabricated statement, Howard’s attorneys argued. Those steps included making up evidence about Nishonda having consensual sex before the killing, the attorneys said.
Dowdy’s interviews include one statement from a woman who said Nishonda returned home two days before the killings, but Dowdy testified that he thought she misspoke and meant the day before the killing. The timeline is key because medical experts indicate that the sperm on the teen was deposited within a 24 hour period of the autopsy.
During Dowdy’s testimony this month, he said he tasked an officer he had never mentioned, including at the 1995 trial or his 2019 deposition, to look into the boyfriend but he never provided any information.
Howard sued for $48 million, $2 million for each year he was in prison and another $5 million, but a lawyer for Dowdy, Nick Ellis, argued that the 58-year-old shouldn’t receive more that $500,00 in damages.
“We have confidence in the investigation Detective Dowdy conducted,” Ellis said, according to Insider. Dowdy has denied all the accusations and even said the witnesses who recant are lying. Ellis told the jury to consider Howard’s past as a drug dealer who struggled with addiction and was shot about 10 times in altercations.
“I am happy about the verdict, but I am kind of upset about the damages,” Howard said, according to News & Observer.
“I think to some extent the racist defense that they have been implementing since the beginning of the ligation has in some ways succeeded,” said Nick Brustin, one of Howard’s attorneys. “I think the verdict doesn’t value the suffering that Darryl went through.”