Family, friends and lawyers filled a Durham County courtroom today in support of Darryl Howard.
Howard was convicted of murdering a woman and her daughter and then setting their public housing apartment on fire. But new DNA evidence shows Howard is likely innocent of the murders and rapes of the women.
The Innocence Project thinks so and they joined Howard in court today.
Darryl Howard has been in prison for 20 years. But the Durham native could soon be going home – released on bond – pending a new trial.
Today in Superior Court, Howard sat next to nationally known attorney Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate more than 300 people. Scheck says Howard deserves bond.
“Pre-trial proceedings, all the way through the trial he was there every day. He took the witness stand in the case and he insisted on his innocence,” said Scheck.
Judge Orlando Hudson said it’s no secret he’s already found that Howard is entitled to a new trial.
“It was a horrendous prosecution. You know who prosecuted the case," said Hudson.
The “horrendous” prosecution Hudson was referring to was orchestrated by then Assistant District Attorney Mike Nifong, who was later disbarred for the way he handled the Duke Lacrosse rape case.
Since Howard was granted a new trial, the Durham DA’s office filed a stay with the Court of Appeals.
Assistant DA Stormy Ellis.
“We would want to again state he has shown himself to be a definite threat to the community here in Durham," said Ellis.
Judge Hudson reiterated, if he could, he would release Howard on bond, today.
Howard family members and friends shouted "Hallelujah, Lord I thank you! We love you, we love you," as Howard left the courtroom.
“We are extraordinarily pleased with the way proceedings went in court today. We are very grateful," said Scheck.
Fifty-two year old Howard, wiped away tears several times today, wearing a cream dress shirt and grey slacks his wife Nannie Howard brought for him to wear. His wrists were free but his ankles were shackled.
Darryl and Nannie Howard have been married for 15 years. She said outside the courthouse, she visits him weekly.
“He’s a handsome man, he’s even more handsome now. He looks like dark chocolate to me, that is my favorite thing,” said Nannie Howard, smiling.
She’s looking forward to Darryl coming home.
“I am overjoyed, I’m happy, I’m elated, I’m nervous. All those wonderful emotions that come to play at a moment like this. But at the end of the day, through it all, I knew my husband was innocent," said Nannie Howard.
Also supporting Howard at today’s hearing was Darryl Hunt – probably one of North Carolina’s most famous exonerees. Hunt spent 19 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He says the Durham County District Attorney needs to create an Integrity Unit.
“So we can find out how many other innocent men and women is still in prison due to the unprofessional and criminal acts that the DA’s office has done to Darryl Howard and so many others," said Hunt.
But now, the pressure is on freeing Howard, which is up to the Court of Appeals right now.
When Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project lawyers are not in town, Jim Cooney with Womble Carlyle is handling much of Howard’s case. He’s confident Howard will be going home soon.
“Regardless of what they say, Mr. Howard is an innocent man and we are going to fight for him and we fully expect to prevail on appeal,” said Cooney.