DeAndre Howard spent more than a decade in prison for a murder he knew he didn’t commit. After years of fighting for his innocence from behind bars, a federal judge had finally granted him an appeal. Prosecutors, he said, gave him a choice. He could plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and get out in time for a Thanksgiving dinner with his family. Or he could go back to trial and risk spending the rest of his life in prison.
He chose trial. That felt final. It felt right. “There was no need to compromise your integrity just so you can go free,” he said. “I felt that’s something you have to hold firm to even if your life is on the line.” On Friday, after 11 years behind bars, Howard, 31, walked out of a courtroom in downtown Los Angeles a free man after a jury acquitted him of murder and attempted murder.
Dressed in a black jumpsuit from county jail, he had trouble finding a pay phone. Someone let him borrow a cellphone. He made several calls to relatives who weren’t expecting his release until several days later. A cousin picked him up at a bus stop near the courthouse. “I was looking at all the buildings and breathing the nice cold air,” he said. “This was freedom.”