Friday, January 21, 2011

Exoneree Darryl Hunt Has Forgiven, But Still Struggles

 AP file photo Darryl Hunt (second from left) reacts after being cleared of a murder charge during a court hearing on Feb. 6, 2004, in Winston-Salem. Hunt was convicted twice and imprisoned for 19 years in the 1984 slaying of Deborah Sykes, a copy editor for the now closed Winston-Salem Sentinel. Hunt was freed after DNA testing proved he didn’t commit the crime.
Exoneree Darryl Hunt Has Forgiven, But Still Struggles
The Herald Sun
01.19.11 - 05:22 pm

DURHAM -- Darryl Hunt spent 19 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. The Winston-Salem man was released on Christmas Eve 2003 and exonerated. He has his freedom from a physical jail, but still deals with the aftermath.

"When I go to sleep at night I still wake up at 2 or 3 a.m. and wait on the side of the bed for someone to tell me I can go to the bathroom," Hunt told the audience at the annual meeting of Durham Congregations in Action Tuesday night at Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

Hunt still has nightmares about the rapes and assaults that happen in prison. He listens to the sounds in his house, making sure to identify the footsteps of his wife and children. He is nervous. When he enters a room, he needs to find a reflective surface so he knows what's behind him.

"I learned all that to survive in prison," he said. "Freedom can't take that away from me."

Freedom is only half the battle, Hunt said, to resuming life on the outside. Now he helps others who are released from prison -- the innocent and guilty -- through his Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice.

Hunt was the DCIA meeting guest speaker along with Duke Law professor Theresa Newman, who is also co-director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic, associate director of the Duke Law School Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility and faculty adviser to the student-led Duke Innocence Project. She shared current cases the Duke Innocent Project is working on.

Newman said reasons for wrongful convictions include errors, informants and jailhouse snitches, witness misidentification, not wanting to undo what's already been decided and law enforcement/prosecutor tunnel vision.

Newman said that more than 250 prisoners have been exonerated through DNA evidence since the 1990s. Hunt was number 149. He was wrongly convicted of the murder and rape of Deborah Sykes in 1984. Willard E. Brown was charged with the crimes after his DNA was found on Sykes.

"When I went to trial for my life in May of 1985, the prosecutors and police knew that I did not commit this crime. They knew who did because he raped and stabbed another woman in February," Hunt said. "I was one vote away from the death penalty. I think about it every day and know that God blessed me."

Hunt considers the vote against his death a miracle. He considers his exoneration a miracle, and said only God could have made it happen.

Hunt started his Project for Freedom and Justice to make life better and help others who are getting out of prison. Rather than a hardship, he considers it a blessing to be a voice for the voiceless.

Sometimes Hunt needs to go to a small room in his basement for a quiet space so he can say "I'm OK, I'm safe. I've got four walls that hold me in."

"A lot of exonerees won't talk about it, but I have to talk about it or I won't make it," he said.

Hunt still hasn't ridden a city bus, because before prison, you pulled a string for a stop, and now the bus talks to you. Before, society was just moving on to cassette tapes from 8-tracks. CDs and DVDs are new to him.

"A lot of things scare us," he said. "After living in prison almost 20 years, I don't know one person on earth who wants to go back."

Hunt said that those who were guilty and paid their debt to society get out and society won't let their debt be paid. They can't find anywhere to live or anyone to give them a job.

"We need to learn to forgive. In order to ask God to forgive us, we have to forgive," he said. Hunt said he was in prison when he started to forgive all the people who lied to send him there.

Hunt still lives in Winston-Salem, and his office is downtown, overlooking the jailhouse and courthouse. Every morning he sees the district attorney, the same one during his trial, as they park and get out of their cars. Hunt said he speaks to the DA, but the DA won't speak to him.

"That's his burden. I forgave him a long time ago," he said. Hunt remained in Winston-Salem, in the shadow of the jail and courthouse as a "reminder to them, so it won't happen again."
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