After spending 21 years in a Durham, North Carolina prison, an emotional Darryl Anthony Howard was released to his family on Wednesday, WRAL reports.
“I’m going home,” he said to a crowd of cheering spectators outside the courthouse.
Howard, 54, was sentenced to 80 years in 1995 on two counts of double-murder for the deaths of Doris Washington and her 13-year-old daughter, Nishonda, according to WRAL. The mother and daughter were found dead in their home in 1991 and witnesses testified they saw Howard at the scene.
According to The Washington Post, Washington’s apartment was burned down and evidence suggested the two women were sexually assaulted before they were murdered. The DNA evidence found at the scene proved vital towards Howard’s release.
In 2014, Judge Orlando Hudson ordered a new trial based on the existence of reasonable doubt. According to WRAL, in April, the state Court of Appeals reversed Hudson’s ruling, ordering this week’s hearing so that attorneys for the state could present evidence to prove why the convictions against Howard should stand.
On Wednesday after a three-day hearing, Judge Hudson vacated the double murder-conviction based on a trail of DNA evidence, again citing reasonable doubt, which included misconduct on behalf of the police and prosecutor.
Ex-district attorney Mike Nifong, who was disbarred over the Duke University lacrosse case, was one of the prosecutors in Howard’s case. It was uncovered that Nifong failed to share important information with Howard’s defense attorneys that pointed to another suspect. He was expected to testify on Wednesday, but after prosecutors decided not to appeal against Hudson’s ruling, Nifong did not have to take the stand.
The Innocence Project took up Howard’s case and hired a private investigator, who in 2012 found Jermeck Jones, a man who had been involved with Washington prior to her death. After further research, the investigator found that the two women had been sexually assaulted by two different men. DNA evidence found in a database identified Jones as one of those men. Jones pleaded the fifth during his testimony on Tuesday.
Reports also surfaced that Washington was involved with local drug dealers, who she allowed to sell out of her apartment. An informant tipped off police that Washington and her daughter were killed because drug dealers blamed her for $8,000 worth of missing drugs.
But on Wednesday, a new trial was the furthest thing from Howard’s mind. After he was released, he greeted his wife Nannie Howard with a hug and kiss, the first time they were able to touch each other without the presence of prison guards. They walked off hand in hand on their way home.
“The journey has been long, but we made it,” Nannie Howard said.