Tuesday, March 4, 2008
The Trials of Darryl Hunt
Last night Em and I went to the viewing of The Trials of Darryl Hunt, followed by a discussion with Darryl and his lawyer, Mark Rabil. It was one of the best events I have EVER attended. I laughed, I cried, I felt anger, and I felt in awe. If you ever get the chance to see this documentary, PLEASE do so. It is premiering on HBO on April 26th.
Darryl Hunt was a black 19 year old living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1984. On August 10, Deborah Sykes, a reporter for a local newspaper, never showed up for work. Her co-workers called police. Her body was found later that morning. She had been raped and stabbed and her body left behind an apartment complex. Police were quick to pin the crime on Darryl, even though there was no physical evidence, he had an alibi, and barely had a criminal history. The star witness for the prosecution was a former Ku Klux Klan member who was later proven to be completely unreliable. Hunt was convicted by an 11:1 white to black jury.
In 1994, DNA proved that Hunt had not been the person to rape Deborah Sykes. Hunt and his lawyer thought that he would be let free. Surely the fact that the DNA found in Sykes was not his would convince the state that he was innocent. But, no. Hunt was somehow kept in prison for another 10 years. It was not until they actually found the man who had murdered Sykes (and they found him because Hunt's lawyer insisted that the DNA that was found in Sykes' body be run through the system until it got a hit, which it did in 2003). In Feb. 2004, Darryl Hunt was finally exonerated and set free. The actual murderer, Williard Brown, confessed to the crime and apologized to Hunt.
The details are so complex, and so upsetting. Darryl Hunt spent almost 20 years in prison for a crime he did not in any way commit. Winston-Salem, and its racially charged police department covered up evidence and information that would help to prove Darryl innocent. Hearing him and his lawyer speak was heartbreaking and beautiful. One part of the documentary that struck me was when Mark Rabil, his lawyer, had to call Darryl in prison and tell him that the Supreme Court had denied them a hearing. The crew films Rabil and one of the heads of the many supporting organizations on the phone with Hunt. Hearing Hunt's reaction was so sad.. and even sadder was watching Rabil sitting at his desk, bent over with his head in his hands, sobbing. It brings tears to my eyes just to think about that scene again.
Please, do yourself a favor. Educate yourself on how screwed up our justice system is. Learn how racism can take hold of people. See the ridiculousness of these trials. At points in the movie, the audience was laughing, not because anything was actually funny, but because of the absurdity of the prosecution, their witnesses (one was a 14 year old prostitute with a mental illness who made a statement and then vehemently denied ever making the statement). Please, please, please rent and watch this. If the library at your university rents movies/documentaries, they probably have this. You can also rent this through Netflix, if you have an account. I promise, it is so worth it, and you will feel inspired and enlightened at the end. Especially because Hunt is completely unangered by all of this. He is calm and serene. He has forgiven the courts, the Winston-Salem PD, Williard Brown for never coming forward, and Deborah Sykes' family for hating him with such a passion. He is completely proactive and believes that this entire experience can be turned into something good. The Darryl Hunt Project is his brainchild..it is an organization who helps exonerees become exonerated and helps them re-enter society. The organization also helps convicts re enter into society upon release. For for information, visit The Darryl Hunt Project website.
Darryl Hunt can be added to my list of heroes.