Rolling Out

Black man wins $7.75M settlement 24 years after wrongful conviction

Darryl Anthony Howard receives settlement from the city of Durham, N.C., after false accusation of double murder in 1995
Photo credit: / Tinnakorn jorruang

After spending nearly 24 years in prison for a wrongful conviction, Darryl Anthony Howard, a Black man from North Carolina, is finally receiving justice. The city of Durham has agreed to pay Howard a settlement of $7.75 million, marking the end of a long and arduous journey for the man falsely accused of a double murder.

Howard’s attorney, Bradley Bannon, emphasized that the settlement is a moment for reflecting on the flaws in the justice system. Howard was wrongfully convicted in 1995 for the 1991 deaths of Doris Washington and her 13-year-old daughter, Nishonda. He was accused of strangling them and setting their apartment on fire, resulting in an 80-year prison sentence.

Charges dropped

In 2016, Howard’s convictions were vacated after DNA evidence, which wasn’t tested until 2010, implicated two other men. Durham County prosecutors subsequently dismissed the charges against Howard. Despite an eyewitness’s testimony against him, the witness’s accounts were later found to be inconsistent and unreliable.

Howard was first released on bond in 2014 after a judge vacated his conviction, but the state appealed the decision. The Innocence Project played a crucial role in introducing new DNA evidence that led to the reversal of his conviction. In April 2021, Howard received a pardon of innocence from Gov. Roy Cooper, and a federal jury awarded him a $6 million settlement in December of the same year. However, the city of Durham initially refused to pay the judgment.

Durham agrees to pay settlement

Years later, in May, Howard’s attorney confirmed that the city had agreed to a $7.75 million settlement, bringing some closure to Howard’s ordeal. Reflecting on his time in prison, Howard shared the emotional toll it took on him, including missing his family and the death of his son while incarcerated.

Howard’s case 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. Additionally, the city of Durham settled a $350,000 lawsuit with former Durham Police Detective Darrell Dowdy, who was found liable in Howard’s wrongful conviction.

Despite these settlements, the city denies any admission of wrongdoing or liability, stating that the payments were made to avoid the hassle and cost of a retrial. Howard’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the emotional and psychological toll of wrongful convictions.

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