Radley Balko’s latest post for The Washington Post features an in-depth look at the case of Darryl Howard, a Durham man who was convicted of murder in North Carolina in 1995. There are lingering questions about Howard’s guilt, in part because key evidence was suppressed by the state at trial, and in part because recent DNA testing suggests he was not responsible for the rape of the victims.
Balko frames the case within the context of the Durham County District Attorney’s Office’s record of misconduct, noting “prosecutorial misconduct is rarely a one-off phenomenon. If it has happened once with a prosecutor, or within a particular office, it has probably happened before.”
An excerpt from Balko’s article is below, but it is well-worth a read in its entirety here.
Howard’s incarceration spans a period of time over which several scandals have raised questions about the dispensation of justice in Durham County. In 2010, a report commissioned by the North Carolina attorney general and follow-up investigations by the Raleigh News & Observer uncovered widespread corruption and malfeasance in the state’s crime lab, including in many cases from Durham County. Fallout from that scandal contributed to the removal of Nifong’s successor, District Attorney Tracey Cline, in 2012. Prosecutors are rarely ever removed from office for misconduct. For it to happen twice, in the same county, within five years is extraordinary. (The Washington Post was unable to reach Mike Nifong or Tracey Cline. The office of interim Durham District Attorney Leon Stanback did not respond to several requests for comment.)
But missing from all of those scandals was any effort to assess the breadth and scope of their reach. Even after Nifong and Cline were removed from office, public officials in Durham County showed little interest in an audit or investigation into the damage they may have done. Part of that may be due to Durham County’s politics and the lingering legacy of the Duke case. With its mix of academic progressives and working class blacks, Durham is arguably the most left-of-center county in the state. (In the 2012 presidential election, Obama received 76% of the vote in Durham County — his best showing in the state.) The lacrosse case of course featured several well-to-do white men accused of raping a low-income black woman. That set the stage for an unlikely lineup up adversaries, as progressive groups, academics, feminists, and racial justice activists sided with the overzealous prosecutor, while the political right lined up behind the accused.
But prosecutorial misconduct is rarely a one-off phenomenon. If it has happened once with a prosecutor, or within a particular office, it has probably happened before. And in Durham, a county that’s 40 percent black and 7.5 percent Latino, the victims in those other cases are far more likely to be people like Darryl Howard than wealthy white students on a college lacrosse team.