The Trials of Darryl Hunt July 27 to Aug. 2, at the Northwest Film Forum
If all the smoking guns of injustice--irrefutable evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct and bias were literally placed in a pile, the exhaust from these firearms would constitute an environmental disaster. Rising in this plume--the residue of extinguished liberty, would be a disproportionate representation of people of color and the mentally ill -- available and easy targets. In the ongoing chronicle of wrongly convicted Black men, which, by virtue of its constancy, no longer possesses the shock and attention it once commanded, the story of Darryl Hunt still manages to shock the sensibilities.
In 1986, Deborah Sykes, a white newspaper editor in Winston-Salem, N.C., was raped, sodomized, and stabbed. There were no obvious suspects and the police, anxious to reassure a population, proceeded on the flimsiest of evidence. Through the most tenuous connections and what this documentary suggests to be devious and misleading strategies, Darryl Hunt, a Black man was convicted of first-degree murder.
The apocryphal devices, employed through two trials, and several appeals, are familiar. The film cites testimony from unreliable witnesses (at least one of whom received a reduced sentence for his cooperation); witnesses with evidence favorable to the defendant allegedly dissuaded from testifying by the police, and questionable procedures in the presentation of mug shots.
At one point, Hunt, whose attorneys were able to obtain a new trial, was offered a plea agreement which would reduce his charge to second-degree murder, giving him credit for time served and immediately setting him free. But the accused, a man of principle, would not confess to a crime he did not commit. His decision, which resulted in another guilty verdict, returned him to a Southern prison, where Hunt says his crime of raping a white woman marked him as an assassination target in prison.
During the appeals process, the evidence supporting his innocence appeared so irrefutable that his defense team, contrary to standard procedure, allowed themselves and Hunt to anticipate his imminent release. But they found the judicial system, supported by the most convoluted of reasoning, immutable in its commitment to keep Hunt imprisoned, refusing to admit he had been wrongly convicted. (I am not revealing certain specifics here, so as not to "spoil" the drama).
There lies a redeeming aspect in the ongoing spectacle of wrongly convicted Black men (there are also many whites unjustly incarcerated), who have been freed through forensics and the efforts of such organizations as the Innocence Project. It lies in the souls of these men who have endured the worst type of suffering. Darryl Hunt, from the time of his arrest maintained his innocence, and expressed no bitterness or resentment toward those who contributed to the process of his unjust incarceration.
Such transcendence is not rare among the wrongly accused. It's as though being held prisoner by a process over which they have no control, these particular prisoners submit to a higher power or philosophy-- releasing them from life's inevitable vicissitudes of expectations and disappointments, opening them to a more enlightened perspective.
The Trials of Darryl Hunt is a dark pool of irony, imparted through a concise and dramatic narrative. It's worth the price of admission, just to experience and wonder on the Darryl's Dalai Lama smile that evolves during the film.
Darryl Hunt's attorney will be in attendance on July 27 and July 28.