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April 26, 2007

Set your DVRs for "The Trials of Darryl Hunt"

Darrylposter A favorite reader reminded me than tonight at 8pm is the HBO premiere of the "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," an award winning documentary about a wrongful conviction in North Carolina.  Here is a snippet from HBO's synopsis of the movie:

In 1984, Deborah Sykes, a young white newspaper reporter, was assaulted, raped, sodomized and stabbed to death just blocks from where she worked in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Though no physical evidence implicated him, Darryl Hunt, a 19-year-old black man, was ultimately convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison.

Ten years later, DNA testing proved that Hunt did not rape Sykes, and cast serious doubts on his involvement in her murder, but he spent another decade behind bars for a crime he did not commit. The eye-opening HBO documentary THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT tells his riveting story — and the story of those who fought to clear his name.

More than a decade in the making, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT examines a community and criminal justice system subject to racial bias and tainted by fear. Hunt was charged with Deborah Sykes' murder largely on the strength of an eyewitness identification by a former Ku Klux Klan member, and convicted by a jury of 11 whites and one black.  It wasn't until 2004, through the help of an investigative series by Winston-Salem journalist Phoebe Zerwick, that he was finally cleared.

Over that 20-year span, his defense attorneys and public supporters never stopped fighting for him. In February 2007, the city of Winston-Salem compensated Hunt $1.65 million for his wrongful conviction and incarceration, and he also received $358,545 in compensation from the state of North Carolina.

Told from the point of view of the principal subjects — Mark Rabil, the unyielding defense attorney, and Hunt, the wrongfully convicted man — the film challenges the assumption that all Americans have access to unbiased justice.  Hunt's real-life courtroom drama reflects systemic issues of broad national concern: the liabilities of cross-racial eyewitness identification, prosecutorial misconduct, inexperienced defense attorneys assigned to capital cases, racial bias in death penalty cases, and errors in police procedure....

As Hunt's story unfolds, it becomes a textbook example of how the presumption of innocence can be subverted when a city's need to solve a gruesome crime, fed by sensational media coverage, leads to a rush to judgment that validates a flimsy case. In addition to clearing their own client, the defense team is ultimately instrumental in identifying the real killer, who is now behind bars.

April 26, 2007 at 01:25 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on Apr 26, 2007 4:02:08 PM


I would highly recommend "Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans" by Jed Horne

90% of the 5th Circuit opinion was the Dissenting opinion. This book is a great read.

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Apr 26, 2007 1:42:19 PM

What an incredible documentary. What happened in Winston-Salem still can happen anywhere. Thank God for a cadre of activists and Darryl Hunt's steadfast, yet graceful spirit that they never wavered in proclaiming his innocent. A must-see documentary for anyone who loves justice.

Employment Law Attorney
Washington, D.C.

Posted by: Javier | Apr 30, 2007 1:14:26 PM

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