Although the lacrosse case technically ended many years ago, its legacy lives on. There was the removal of Mike Nifong’s successor (and would-be second chair if the case had gone to trial) Tracey Cline, also because of ethical improprieties. Or the publication of a revisionist book by William D. Cohan, who described Nifong as “crucified” for the sin of believing the “rational, thoughtful, articulate” Crystal Mangum. Or, at Duke, the revelation last year of a previously secret policy in which junior faculty with (unspecified) views the administration deemed “intolerant” would be told: “You have to go.”
But even for the wonderland that is Durham, events of this week were extraordinary. Radley Balko provided the background to the Darryl Howard case two years ago, and the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct only multiplied since then. The basics: in 1991, Doris Washington and her daughter were murdered in a gruesome fashion. It appeared as if they were also sexually assaulted—at least the police initially explored the question. But then Howard’s DNA (the test was done eight months after he was arrested) wasn’t a match for the rape kit from the daughter (initially there was no test done for Doris Washington’). So the prosecutor in the case assured the jury that the police never considered the matter a sexual assault, suggesting the two women had sex before the crime. And there’s no record the prosecutor turned over a police memo to the defense admitting that police had initially explored the crime as a sexual assault/murder. That prosecutor was Mike Nifong. Howard was convicted, and wound up spending 21 years in prison.
With more sophisticated DNA testing, in 2011, DNA from the mother’s rape kit was matched to a small-time local criminal, Jermeck Jones. The Durham Police Department brought Jones in for questioning, but proved remarkably non-curious about inconsistencies in his remarks. Here’s an excerpt of the exchanges.
For Jones’ entire time in the interrogation room, the Durham PD video recorded him, even as (briefly alone in the room) he chatted to an unknown party on his phone, saying, “I don’t want to rat on anybody.” More problematically, despite a court order requiring the Durham DA’s office to share all relevant evidence about the case with Howard’s lawyers, then-DA Cline’s office didn’t produce the video. Howard’s attorneys didn’t get it for five years, and the video emerged—with devastating effect—in this week’s hearing.
During the three-day hearing, the low point was this exchange between Barry Scheck and Durham Police detective Michele Soucie—who played a small role in investigating the lacrosse case, and who came across as at least somewhat honest. Soucie’s indifference to exploring whether the Durham Police had wrongfully convicted Howard is dispiriting.
It came as little surprise that Judge Orlando Hudson vacated Howard’s murder conviction. The Durham DA’s office announced intent to appeal—but changed its mind two hours later. In exchange, Howard’s attorneys agreed not to pursue a motion for sanctions against the Durham DA’s office. That motion would have led to testimony from Mike Nifong, under examination from Scheck. It’s perhaps easy to see why the Durham DA’s office didn’t want to go down that path.
In the last 24 hours, two more shattering announcement: an AP report revealed that 20 more Durham cases, including four prosecuted by the discredited Nifong, are under review. And on Friday came the announcement that no further charges will be pursued against Howard.
Nifong’s chief defender among the commentariat, author William D. Cohan, has not tweeted or otherwise commented about the events in Durham. (Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, he’s never mentioned the name Darryl Howard, even as he has celebrated Nifong’s “integrity.”) During the hearing, Cohan went on CNN to discuss his investigation into the first date of Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin. His most recent tweet, as of Friday afternoon, was a photograph of a sunset.