Prosecutor drops case against man imprisoned for 2 decades

A man who spent 21 years in prison has been freed after a judge threw out his double-murder conviction.

Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson said in 2014 he remembered observing Howard's murder trial as it was under way.

Howard said he was looking forward to building a relationship with the wife who married him three years after he entered prison and seeing his grandchildren. Nifong was to admit or dismiss in court whether the misconduct from the police and prosecutors made him convict the innocent man.

Hudson said prosecutors would have to retry Howard, who was convicted based heavily on the testimony of witnesses at the Durham public housing project where the slayings occurred, or drop the case.

The case caused controversy as it was prosecuted by former district attorney Mike Nifong, who was later disbarred for lying and misconduct in the Duke lacrosse rape case in 2006 - when three members of the North Carolina university's men's team were falsely accused.

"There is no evidence Mr. Howard was even in the apartment", said attorney James Cooney.

Howard, 54, was discharged from custody on Wednesday without condition after serving 21 years in prison.

He also said he was not angry.

Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said Thursday he'll cooperate with investigating any innocence claims or questionable prosecutions pointed out by the nonprofit North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. Nifong was disbarred from practice and jailed for his handling of another trial, the Duke University lacrosse case. "Given the history of the DA's office, having their past skeletons paraded out again is likely something that nobody wanted". A Durham police detective testified at Howard's trial that investigators never considered that the sexual assaults were linked to the killers.

But a second look at the case by the Innocence Project showed that police and prosecutors had a police memo in their files that contradicted that.

They argued that despite what police and prosecutors presented to the jury in 1995 that Washington and her daughter had been sexually assaulted and murdered before someone set fire to their apartment.

Howard was released from prison Wednesday.

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