(CN) – A North Carolina man exonerated after serving 23 years in prison for a double-murder he did not commit is suing the investigators he claims fabricated the case against him and intentionally suppressed evidence that would have proved his innocence.
Darryl Howard was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 80 years in prison for the 1991 murder of a mother and her 13-year-old daughter and arson of their home.
Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson threw out his conviction in 2014, ruling “there was extremely credible, strong evidence that Mr. Howard did not commit” the crime.
But Howard’s was reinstated by an appeals court which said Howard might well be innocent, but a new hearing needed to be held to determine whether he’d been wrongly convicted.
During a Superior Court evidentiary hearing in 2016, Howard’s lawyer presented DNA rape kit evidence that excluded him as the perpetrator of the rape and murder of the victims.
In a federal complaint filed May 24 in Durham, North Carolina, Howard says in 2010, a previously unknown semen sample turned up and investigators knew it matched another man.
However, they failed to disclose this information, even after they were ordered to do so by a superior court judge, the complaint says.
In all, the evidence was kept from prosecutors for four-and-a-half years.
Howard says during the initial investigation, officer Darrell Dowdy denied that sexual assaults had occurred in the case and officially stated the daughter had been with her boyfriend having sex prior to her murder and did not request rape kits for the investigation.
Investigators received tips from residents of the housing complex that implicated the New York Boys gang in the crime. Residents told officers the gang paid some residents $2,000 to use their apartments for stashing and dealing drugs, and that Washington was murdered because $8,000 had gone missing, but that evidence was suppressed, the complaint says.
As recounted in the complaint, Howard was arrested the day after the murders for trespassing in the complex and driving without a license. The arresting officer told investigators Howard made a suspicious comment about the crime which brought the focus of the investigation onto him.
Howard admitted he was friends with the victim and also that following the murders a man called “June Bug” traded a VCR for cocaine with him. Investigators noted a VCR had been stolen from the victim’s apartment.
According to the complaint, due to public pressure on the Durham Police Department to find the murder(s) Dowdy coerced a 17-year-old informant, a known prostitute who was offered leniency in her pending case and two others into making false statements to implicate Howard.
During the 23 years Howard spent in prison his only son died, as did his sister. Other relatives, including his mother, fell into decline. He was deprived of being able to get a job, relationships, time with family, education, healthy dieting, having a family and his constitutional right to pursue life, liberty and happiness, the complaint says.
Howard seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
He is represented by Narendra Ghosh of Patterson Harkavy LLP in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Representatives of the defendants did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.