Anti-death penalty advocate Darryl Hunt, who was wrongfully convicted and served almost 20 years in North Carolina prisons before being exonerated in 2004, was found dead on March 13, 2016 in a car near the Wake Forest University campus. Police officials revealed that Hunt had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound; he was 51 years old and had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
In June 1985, a single juror refused to vote to sentence Hunt to death for a rape and murder that he did not, in fact, commit. He instead received a life sentence based on an arrest, trial and conviction that were not only highly racially-charged, but also flawed by eyewitness misidentification, false testimony of jailhouse informants and a witness who later recanted. Hunt’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1989, but he refused a deal to plead guilty to murder and accept a sentence of time served. Maintaining his innocence, Hunt was retried and again sentenced to life.
In 1994, advanced DNA testing revealed that biological evidence recovered from the victim’s body did not match Hunt. Still, prosecutors argued there may have been multiple assailants and Hunt could have killed the victim, Deborah Sykes. A judge agreed and Hunt remained in prison.
In 2003, the Winston-Salem Journal published an eight-part series on Hunt’s case. Shortly after the series ran, the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation matched the DNA from the crime scene to a convicted rapist who confessed to murdering Sykes. Hunt was exonerated and received a pardon; he later filed and settled lawsuits against the state and the City of Winston-Salem. [See: PLN, Oct. 2008, p 47].
Following his release, he became an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform and abolition of the death penalty.
Attorney Mark Rabil represented Hunt from his first trial through his civil suits more than two decades later. Rabil said he had always known Hunt was innocent, and believed his years in prison, the trauma of being wrongfully convicted and the responsibilities he took on after he was released all wore him down.
“In the long run, he eventually got the death penalty,” Rabil observed.
Sources: www.charlotteobserver, www.nccadp.org, www.myfox8.com
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