Synopsis by Mark Deming
In 1984, Deborah Sykes, a copy editor at a newspaper in Winston-Salem, NC, was on her way to work when she was attacked by a man who raped and killed her. Three men were identified by the police as likely suspects -- Sammy Mitchell, Johnny Gray, and Darryl Hunt -- but it didn't take long for investigators to single out Hunt as the man who committed the brutal crime. Coverage of the case in the Winston-Salem Sentinel, the paper Sykes worked for, fueled public outrage and many called for swift justice against Hunt. However, Hunt stubbornly declared his innocence, and even declined an opportunity for a plea bargain agreement because he was determined to prove he did not commit the crime. Hunt was found guilty and given a life sentence, but civil rights advocates believed he had been railroaded, especially given the racial tension the trial generated in this Southern community -- Sykes was white and Hunt was black, while the jury that delivered the verdict was nearly all white and some of the most damning testimony, later to be found to be inaccurate, was given by a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. A second trial in 1989 also resulted in a guilty verdict, but in 1994 DNA testing proved that Hunt was not the man who committed the crime. However, no North Carolina court was willing to accept this new evidence, and it wasn't until 2004 that Hunt was finally exonerated and released. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg began following the Darryl Hunt case in 1994, and ten years of research and interviews went into the making of The Trials of Darryl Hunt, a documentary following his long and painful road to eventual justice. Produced for the premium cable network HBO, The Trials of Darryl Hunt was screened to enthusiastic reviews at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
unjust-imprisonment, false-conviction, racism, court-system, DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid)