Commentary

Former colleague pays tribute to Darryl Hunt

Darryl HuntRemembering our friend Darryl Hunt

By Tarrah Callahan

Darryl Hunt, who died March 13, was a long-time employee of the N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and a tireless warrior in the fight to end North Carolina’s death penalty. Tarrah Callahan was Darryl’s co-worker and, more importantly, his friend. This post appeared originally on NCCADP’s blog.

On Sunday, I looked around the room at Emmanuel Baptist Church with pain and joy at the more than 150 people who, with just a few hours’ notice, had rushed to Winston-Salem to honor Darryl Hunt. Person after person stood up to share a story or an experience about how Darryl had changed their lives. I struggled to come up with one story that encompassed Darryl, and I just couldn’t. There are too many layers of the complicated person that was Darryl Hunt.

He was the most genuine and authentic person I’ve ever known. His courage and commitment to being “a voice to the voiceless” was unrivaled. Every time I talked to him, he was putting up money from his own personal account to help anyone he could. When we found out that an execution date had been set for Troy Davis in Georgia, Darryl called me and said we had to get buses of students down to march in Atlanta for Troy. When it looked like we weren’t going to be able to raise funds to cover the buses, Darryl just called the company and paid for them himself. When I arrived at Emmanuel Baptist Church the following morning, I saw huge crowds of people waiting to get on the buses. On that Sunday, as on this past one, they showed up at the church with only a few hours’ notice. When it came to setting the agenda for the fight for justice, Darryl spoke and people listened.

To truly know Darryl was to acknowledge his complicated soul. Read more

Commentary

Friends, admirers remembering and honoring Darryl Hunt

Darryl HuntPeople all over North Carolina and, indeed, all over the world have been issuing statements of remembrance and appreciation for Darryl Hunt during the last 48 hours since Hunt, a gentle soul who crusaded for justice in our criminal system after having been denied it himself for almost 20 years, died this past weekend.

Here’s the Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP:

“Darryl was a wounded healer in the greatest sense. I can remember him often saying that he has forgiven those who put him in jail when they knew he was innocent, but he has not forgotten. For Darryl, it was a spiritual matter. He would say that he did not know how to ask others or God for forgiveness if he was not willing to forgive those who imprisoned him. He was not going to let them imprison him again with bitterness. And neither would he let them keep him from fighting for justice.

Darryl traveled the nation and the world with his witness that injustice does not have the last word. For a generation of activists, Darryl was hope incarnate. Justice was his calling. Courage and love was his answer. We pledge to you brother Darryl, that your spirit lives on in each of us. Those you touched will touch others and others as we keep our hands on the freedom plow. Let it be so. ”

And here’s Allen Johnson of Darryl’s hometown newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal expressing amazement at the peace and grace Hunt displayed after seeing Hunt speak at North Carolina A&T:

“Hunt simply talked about what he had lived: the wrongful rape-and-murder conviction that put him behind bars for 19 years and could have cost him his life; his work to help free others who are wrongfully imprisoned; and his utter lack of bitterness about all that had been done to him in the name of the law.

Not toward a system that had sent him to prison in 1985 based on flimsy evidence and a flawed investigation.

Not toward the prosecutor in the case, whom he would see often during walks in downtown Winston-Salem.

Not toward people who still believed he had stabbed and raped Winston-Salem Sentinel copy editor Deborah Sykes in 1984, even after his innocence was proven in 2004.

And not toward the man who actually had committed the crime and confessed to it after DNA evidence had exonerated Hunt.”

And here’s Barry Saunders writing in Raleigh’s News & Observer on a similar note:

Read more

Commentary, News

Vigil tonight for innocence crusader Darryl Hunt

Darryl Hunt

Image: www.innocenceproject.org

Criminal justice advocates (and justice advocates of all kinds) around North Carolina and the nation were shocked this morning to learn of the tragic passing of Darryl Hunt. As WRAL reported here, Hunt was found dead in his car in Winston-Salem early this morning after having been declared missing yesterday.

The Wake Forest University School of Law posted the following a little while ago:

Vigil to be held for Darryl Hunt at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 13, at Emmanuel Baptist Church

A vigil will be held for exoneree Darryl Hunt, who worked closely with the Wake Forest Law Innocence and Justice Clinic, at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 13, at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 1075 Shalimar Drive, in Winston-Salem.

Hunt’s body was found early this morning in a vehicle off University Parkway. The cause of his death is still under investigation, according to the Winston-Salem Police Department.

The Rev. John Mendez, who has been involved since 1984 as part of the Hunt defense team, is hosting the vigil.

Hunt, who was exonerated in February 2004, was represented by Wake Forest School of Law Director of Innocence and Justice Clinic Mark Rabil.  Hunt was granted a pardon of innocence by Gov. Mike Easley in April 2004.

“Twenty years of wrongful of incarceration and 12 years of being a voice for the voiceless is what killed Darryl Hunt,” Rabil said this afternoon. “He embodied all that trauma  and took it on himself.”

Rabil was an assistant capital defender in Forsyth County whose zealous advocacy led to the release and exoneration of Hunt after 19 years of incarceration. In 1984, Rabil was court-appointed to assist a senior partner in his law firm in representing Hunt, a 19-year-old black man charged with the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, a young newspaper copy editor in Winston-Salem. Though no credible evidence linked Hunt to the murder, he would spend nearly 20 years in prison trying to prove his innocence.

Following Hunt’s release, he and Rabil spoke at events across the country sharing Hunt’s ordeal to illuminate the issues of wrongful conviction, race and the death penalty. An HBO documentary, “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” is shown to first-year Wake Forest Law students at Orientation and Rabil and Hunt would discuss the film and answer questions following the screening.

Hunt also assisted the Innocence and Justice Clinic on a number of cases, Rabil said. Through the clinic, Hunt worked with Experiment for Self-Reliance to help people get their criminal records expunged, did public speaking and talked to law students about his case.

Hunt’s 2004 exoneration is cited as the genesis of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission an article “Guilty, Then Proven Innocent,” published by The Atlantic on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015.

The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission was founded by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2007 and was the first of its kind in the nation. Since its nascence, the Commission has reviewed hundreds of innocence claims and conducted multiple hearings.

“Part of Darryl’s legacy is the numerous people who have been freed as a result of the Commission created because of his case,” Rabil added.

The Winston-Salem Journal featured Hunt in 2014 here.

Commentary

Another victim of NC’s Kafkaesque criminal justice system is rescued

Yet another innocent man got out of a North Carolina prison this week after serving decades of a sentence he didn’t deserve. How anyone could still believe we should be putting people to death in light of such a development is unimaginable. The following story appeared originally on the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Weak evidence sends innocents to prison, or death
By Kristin Collins of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation

Yesterday, Howard Dudley was exonerated after serving 23 years for a crime he never committed — sexually abusing his daughter.

Dudley was convicted and received a life sentence based on a single piece of evidence: the testimony of a 9-year-old girl who was intellectually disabled and had mental illness.

Not only did prosecutors rely on the girl’s false statements to convict Dudley, but they never revealed court records showing that the girl told several outlandish versions of the story and that many people in her life believed she was lying. Dudley’s inexperienced trial lawyer, who spent just 27 hours preparing for his trial, didn’t know to ask for the records.

The girl recanted almost immediately after the 1992 trial. For more than 20 years, Dudley’s daughter has said he never abused her.

It might sound unbelievable that a person could receive such a stiff sentence based on such thin evidence. In fact, people in North Carolina are frequently prosecuted for the death penalty based on evidence just as flimsy.

Nine people have been exonerated from North Carolina’s death row, and the testimony of unreliable witnesses has been a huge factor in many of those cases. Alan Gell was wrongly sentenced to death based on the false testimony of two teenage girls trying to hide their own culpability in the crime. Levon Jones received a death sentence because of the statements of a single woman, who was paid for her testimony, told several inconsistent stories about the crime, and later recanted.

Research shows that the use of unreliable witnesses — such as children, jailhouse snitches, co-defendants, or people who are being compensated — is commonplace in capital prosecutions in North Carolina. Among defendants who have been the targets of capital prosecutions, despite evidence too weak even to prove their guilt, more than half of cases involve the use of unreliable witnesses.

Go to our new online database, On Trial for their Lives, to explore the cases of innocent people who were prosecuted capitally based on the thinnest of evidence. Or read CDPL’s comprehensive report about wrongful capital prosecutions in North Carolina.

Commentary

Scalia’s death: Another step in the demise of the death penalty?

Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portrait

The late Antonin Scalia

With executions long on hold here in North Carolina, it’s easy to forget that we still have a long way to go in joining the most of the rest of the civilized world in abandoning the death penalty. What’s more, as this recent post by Kristin Collins on the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty reminds us, men still reside on death row in our state who were sentenced under the most absurd and outrageous of circumstances. Here’s Collins:

“Almost a year ago, Kenneth Neal was quietly removed from death row after 19 years awaiting his execution.

According to the judge’s order entered that day in March 2015, Neal was resentenced to life in prison without parole because he is intellectually disabled. In the years since Neal’s 1996 conviction, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people with significant intellectual disabilities.

Kenneth Neal

Kenneth Neal

What went unmentioned is that Neal likely never would have been sentenced to death in the first place had he not been assigned a notorious convicted felon as a defense attorney.

On trial for his life, the courts assigned Neal an attorney who had, just a few years before when he was a district attorney, been caught up in a highly publicized child pornography sting. The attorney had been caught with sex tapes of children as young as 7 and 8, performing incestuous sex acts between siblings and parents — and the jury was well aware of the lawyer’s crimes. Read Neal’s full story here.”

Of course, such facts would have been unlikely to trouble the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who infamously declared that the Constitution did not bar the execution of even an innocent person who had received a “fair” trial.

In the weeks and months to come, it’s clear that the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by Scalia’s passing will force the Court closer to the center of the American political debate than, perhaps, ever before. And whatever the outcome of that contest, it’s hard to imagine that the next Justice appointed will be as avid and enthusiastic of a death penalty defender as Scalia.

Let’s fervently hope that’s the case, anyway.