Image credit: https://www.law.umich.edu/
State: North Carolina
Exonerated Crime: Murder
Conviction date: 1985
Exonerated date: 2004
Darryl Hunt was convicted of murder, with a life sentence in 1985 (North Carolina does have the death penalty, however, this was required to be unanimous, and luckily, one juror saved Hunt from this). A higher court overturned this conviction due to a technicality in 1989, granting him his (temporary) freedom until he was re-tried in 1990. This time, the prosecutors actually offered Hunt a plea deal, this deal would have set him free immediately, but he would have had to admit guilt. Hunt refused the deal and to admit guilt, still claiming innocence. This meant Hunt was in the hands of another jury, one which convicted him again.
Four years after this conviction DNA tests found that Hunts DNA didn’t match the evidence collected at the scene of the crime, however, it wasn’t until many years later (2003) which another DNA test was run, and a series of appeals were completed, which linked another man, Willard Brown, to the crime. After this was discovered, and Willard Brown had confessed, Hunt was released from prison, signing his release papers and leaving prison on Christmas Eve, 2003. 18 years after his original conviction date.
After this Hunt did a lot of work to help exonerate other wrongfully convicted individuals. Hunt used the many offers to speak about his own foundation – the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice – and became a well-known activist for criminal justice.
Hunt has influenced many factors of the North Carolina state law. At one point, North Carolina had the fifth highest execution rate to currently having a death penalty moratorium (a temporary prohibition of the use of the death penalty) in place for over a decade. No one has been executed in North Carolina since 2006.
Hunt was also involved in pushing the North Carolina Racial Justice Act of 2009. This act aims to disallow if race should be a factor used to determine whether or not someone should be executed.
However, over the years all of his hard work and constant reliving of his darkest years took a toll on Hunt. Hunt “Was wounded by 20 years of wrongful incarceration and taking on the burdens of so many people and fighting systems that can’t be changed in one lifetime.” With all of this to deal with, Hunt also fell upon a hard time more recently with a separation and divorce from his wife, who also filed a domestic violence complaint against Hunt. Her complaint stated that Hunt had moved out of her house in May and after that, he came to the house and tried to get into her car. After which he tried to get into the shed in the back (to get the lawn mower from her shed) and attempted to push his way into the house, screaming, “Who in the hell is here!”.
According to April, she tried to stop her husband by pulling him, but he pushed her and they began to scuffle for a moment. She said she hit him to stop him and he pushed her down again and left. David Hough, Hunt’s attorney, said Hunt denies that he physically abused his wife and that she was the aggressor. Hough said Hunt was trying to keep his wife from hitting him. All of the charges were dropped, and in the consent order during the divorce proceedings, the couple both agreed to not “assault, threaten, abuse, follow, harass (by telephone, texting, emailing, social media, visiting the home or workplace of the other or by any other means) or interfere with each other.”
After all the chaos was over, Hunt decided to leave town to search for his long-lost sister. He found the individual in Georgia and at this time he rented a place to stay with her and her teenage children. At this time it was said that Hunt was undergoing treatment for his prostate cancer. Hunt felt that he was “worthless, and he should die”.
In 2016 Hunt decided to return to North Carolina as he “missed the work”, however, upon his arrival, he discovered his resources had all been frozen, causing him to miss payments on his truck, and this to be repossessed. All this would have had a huge impact on himself, increasing his depression before he ended his own life in 2016 with a gun in a friends truck. At the time of his death, Hunt was 51. He was found just after midnight on the 13th March 2016. Hunt had been missing for nine days by this point. Hunt had been living with his friend Little since the beginning of the year due to his divorce with his wife. The truck was found about a mile away from where he was living with Little at the time. Little and others had looked for him for nearly a week, but apparently, they never noticed the truck parked nearby.
Hunt was haunted by his life experiences in many ways that would be alien to you or I. He used a cash machine each day, not so much to get money out specifically, but mainly so he could create a time-stamped image of himself, and be able to prove his whereabouts each day, in case he was ever again, accused of a similar crime. “Even after all this time – he still carries this kind of fear and anxiety.”
In a note he left his friend, Little, just before Hunt took his life, he stated “he felt that he had tried to help people. He felt responsible for the breakup of his marriage … that (ex-wife) April was there before there was any freedom and money … he wanted the community to help her move on with her life. He was suffering with stomach and prostate cancer and was in a lot of pain.”
Even in the last month, when he was depressed and undergoing treatment for cancer, Hunt travelled to the University of Virginia to speak at one of its schools on his life and his accomplishments, and how the state can and should change. It was said that he seemed distracted whilst there, he still planned to speak at a retreat for Healing Justice, which aims to help fix and reduce “extensive human damage” which have been created due to wrongful convictions. He was struggling, but still, even at this time, he did not want to let anyone down and still felt it was his duty to help and support other people.
“He hadn’t asked to lead a public life. It just happened to him”