A Black Man Spent Nearly 24 Years In Prison After a Wrongful Conviction, Then the City Refused to Pay Him $6M Awarded By Jury. He’s Finally Getting His Restitution

After spending nearly 24 years in prison for a wrongful conviction, a Black North Carolina man is finally receiving justice. The city of Durham has agreed to pay Darryl Anthony Howard a settlement of $7.75 million, according to several news sources. 

That marks the end of a long and arduous journey for the man who was falsely accused of a double murder. 

Howard’s attorney, Bradley Bannon, stated that the settlement is not a cause for celebration but rather a day of reflection on how easy it is for the system to get it wrong and how hard it is to make it right, according to the News & Observer newspaper.

A jury awarded Darryl Howard, originally sentenced to 80 years in prison for the 1991 murders of Doris Washington, 29, and her 13-year-old daughter Nishonda, $6 for his wrongful conviction. (Photo: News & Observer YouTube screenshot)

In 1995, Howard was wrongfully convicted on two counts of second-degree murder for the 1991 deaths of Doris Washington and her 13-year-old daughter, Nishonda. He was accused of strangling Washington and her daughter and setting their apartment on fire four years prior and was later sentenced to 80 years in prison — two consecutive 40-year terms for the two murders and one 40-year term for arson, as reported by ABC 11. 

However, in 2016, the convictions were vacated after DNA evidence, some of which wasn’t tested until 2010, implicated two other men. Following this revelation, Durham County prosecutors dismissed the charges against Howard. DNA evidence pointed to sexual assault against both the mother and daughter before they were set on fire. They were found in their Few Gardens apartment. However, no DNA evidence linked Howard to the crime scene or as the rapist. 

There was an eyewitness who testified against Howard during the case, but his accounts were scrutinized for being vague or contradictory. In fact, the witness reportedly recanted his story to police over time.

A judge first vacated Howard’s conviction in 2014, releasing him on bond then, but the state pushed back with an appeal. The Innocence Project represented Howard and introduced new DNA evidence that led to a reversal of his conviction.

Despite being granted a pardon of innocence by Gov. Roy Cooper in April 2021 and a federal jury awarding Howard a $6 million settlement in December of the same year, the city of Durham refused to pay. The city council announced in April 2022 that it was refusing to pay the judgment because the council reasoned the jury found that the Durham detective found liable in Howard’s wrongful conviction had acted “in bad faith” during the investigation of the murders.

Durham City Attorney Kimberly Rehberg said then that the jury made “a bad faith finding” about former Durham Police Detective Darrell Dowdy.

“The city generally proceeds under the presumption that however conduct may have been portrayed in a complaint, the employee was engaged in the good faith execution of their duties on behalf of the city and was, thus, entitled to a defense,” she continued.

After the city’s decision was announced, Dowdy’s attorney slammed the council’s refusal to pay the award, pointing out that the city had paid more than $4 million to defend Dowdy in court, all while in possession of the same set of facts the jury heard. The decision left the former police captain personally liable for the $6 million award.

“The city has known all along what Captain Dowdy did and decided to defend him on that basis,” attorney Patricia Shields told the News & Observer.

Years later, in May, Howard’s attorney, Bradley Bannon, confirmed that Howard had settled with the city. The city of Durham agreed to pay Howard $7.75 million, a decision that finally brought some closure to Howard’s ordeal.

Reflecting on his time in prison, Howard told WRAL News, “I fought every day for the 24 years I was in jail, trying to prove my innocence.” He added, “I missed my mom. My son died when I was in prison. I missed my family. I missed living, you know – living a free life.”

Howard’s story is a poignant reminder of the emotional toll of wrongful convictions. “It’s hard to explain,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words. I’m frustrated, angry, all of these emotions. If you didn’t do nothing wrong, you shouldn’t be imprisoned.”

Howard’s trial was overseen by a prosecutor who was later disbarred for misconduct in a separate case. Following Howard’s release, Durham District Attorney Roger Echols decided not to retry the case, ABC 11 reported.

Also, the city of Durham settled a $350,000 lawsuit with Dowdy, who sued the city after it failed to indemnify him following the outcome of Howard’s lawsuit. Despite these settlements, the city denies any admission of wrongdoing or liability, stating the payments were made to avoid the hassle and cost of a retrial.

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