“Innocent till proven guilty” is a principle by which the current United States justice system operates in criminal trials. However, for Darryl Howard, innocence came with hardships associated with injustice and racial bias that prevented him from getting a fair trial in his case. In his talk with the Innocence Project, Howard discussed his life from the perspective of an unfairly convicted man and underlined the significant role that race and skin color play in the sentencing of people and how such sentences can ruin one’s life for a long.
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On March 21, 1995, Darryl Howard was sentenced to eighty years in prison by the state of North Carolina for capital murder. Serving twenty-four years in prison, he was exonerated on September 2, 2016, with the help of DNA testing. Throughout the sentencing, conviction, and decades serving in prison, especially since his arrest took place a year after the crime for which he was charged had occurred. The problem with his conviction was that no physical evidence that would kind Howard to the crime was found; moreover, there were contradictory testimonies of witnesses.
The role of the Innocence Project in exonerating Howard was instrumental as the professionals involved in the case managed to reveal important information that contributed to the unfair sentencing of the individual. For instance, they found that Durham police had received an anonymous tip that the murders of young women also involved rape and occurred because their mother owed money to drug dealers. This information was nowhere to be found in public records, which meant that the department intentionally hid it. With the help of the post-conviction DNA test, the Innocence Project managed to exclude Howard from the pool of suspects and questioned the integrity of investigators that failed to consider rape as the aspect of the crime.
In his talk, Howard thanked the Innocence Project organization for the work that they had done in getting him out of prison. He acknowledged the possibility of a racially biased prosecutor, judge, and the jury contributing to the sentencing because of their convictions. He emphasized that white defendants were often treated differently and with greater leniency, especially in cases when the courtroom is predominantly white. Racial disparities in the US criminal justice system are an issue that has been acknowledged even by such highly-regarded organizations as the United Nations. This has occurred due to the perceived differentiation of the justice system into two different categories, one of which serves wealthy people and another that deals with people of color and poor people.
The case of Darryl Howard teaches about the importance of staying true to one’s convictions and persevering through the injustices in the supposedly ‘justice’ system. Howard’s talk was illuminating as it shed light on the challenges of being unfairly convicted and proving one’s innocence despite the public being convinced of an individual’s guilt. The case of Howard who spent twenty-four years for a crime that he did not commit is one of the thousands as evidenced by the information on the Innocence Project website. Now, Darryl Howard has to chase up the two and a half decades of his life that he lost in prison due to a wrongful conviction. Overcoming wrongful incarceration is a complex process, with Howard underlining the role of his family in reaching this objective.