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, Justice for McCollum and Brown

Charlotte Observer calls on Guv to act on McCollum and Brown pardon

BrownMcCollum-v2-web-60percent-grayAs has been chronicled for some time now on these pages, the unexplained delay in justice for Henry McCollum and Leon Brown continues. This is Day 243 since the pair submitted their pardon application to Gov. McCrory. The two remain essentially indigent after having had 31 years of their lives stolen by the state of North Carolina. Today, in and an encouraging development, the Charlotte Observer editorial page has lent its voice to the growing list of groups and individuals calling on the Governor to fish or cut bait on the matter. As the editorial notes:

“McCollum and Brown need a pardon to receive compensation because they were exonerated by a judge. A different path to exoneration – the innocence commission followed by a three-judge panel – does not require a pardon. A bill to treat exonerated inmates the same passed the House unanimously last month and is now in the Senate.

McCollum and Brown are both mentally disabled, penniless and adjusting to society after 31 years under the state’s control. That their lives were wrongly taken from them by an overzealous prosecutor and others is horrific. Now, McCrory’s delay has left them struggling to pay bills and with records still tainted by the lack of a pardon.

As part of McCrory’s investigation, the SBI and the Robeson County DA’s office are exploring whether the two had any culpability in the original crime. The investigation that freed them, though, was uncommonly thorough, and the judge found not only that there was not enough evidence to retry them, but that they were actually innocent.

McCrory’s extensive probe is unnecessary, and shouldn’t take more than eight months, in any case. He needs to wrap it up and let McCollum and Brown get on with the lives the state unconscionably took from them.’

Let’s hope the Guv is paying attention.

Commentary, Justice for McCollum and Brown

Day 228 of Gov. McCrory denying justice to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Monday marks the 228th day that Governor Pat McCrory has refused to grant a pardon of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, the two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

McCollum and Brown, both mentally disabled, were freed September 4 of last year after the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission found DNA evidence that proved another man had committed the crimes.

The two men need the pardon from McCrory to be eligible for financial compensation from the state for the years they were wrongly incarcerated. McCrory received the petition September 11 of last year, 228 days ago.

The Red Springs Citizen reported Friday that the local prosecutor’s office and the SBI are conducting further investigations into the case before McCrory grants the pardon, despite the in-depth investigation by the Innocence Inquiry Commission that resulted in the exoneration of McCollum and Brown.

So after spending 31 years behind bars for a crime they did not commit, the two men find themselves again waiting for justice.

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Commentary, Justice for McCollum and Brown

Day 224 of Gov. McCrory denying justice to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Thursday marks the 224th day that Governor Pat McCrory has refused to grant a pardon of innocence to Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, the two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

McCollum and Brown need the pardon to receive the financial compensation available from the state for the years of their lives that were taken from them.

There’s still no explanation from McCrory about why he hasn’t granted the pardon. He received the application for it from McCollum and Brown last September 11—224 days ago.

Today instead of granting the pardon McCrory was near Charlotte for the dedication of a visitor center at Lake Norman State Park.

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