Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Trials of Darryl Hunt

The Trials of Darryl Hunt, a documentary about an innocent black man convicted and incarcerated in North Carolina, is debuting in various locales around the country. Here's a review from the Seattle Times:

Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's remarkable documentary, The Trials ofDarryl Hunt, tells a story so harrowing, you watch without blinking, forgetting to breathe. It's a true saga of misplaced justice, spun out over nearly 2 decades. In 1984, a 19-year-old black man was accused of the brutal rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, a young white woman inWinston-Salem, N.C. Though no physical evidence linked Hunt to the crime, and the young man (who had no violent crime record) steadfastly maintained his innocence, an all-white jury convicted him and sentenced him to life in prison.

Ten years later, DNA test results were posted, categorically eliminating Hunt as a suspect in the crime. And yet, despite the best efforts of a legal team and numerous supporters, he was not set free. Appeals were filed, arguments made, and Hunt sat in his prison cell as more years went by.

An image from the film, taken after a conversation with attorney MarkRabil, shows Hunt framed through a small window behind a locked door; his usual smile is absent, and he looks both terrified and resigned.

Stern and Sundberg spent 10 years shooting this film, not knowing how the story might end. They spin their tale tautly and confidently, smoothly untangling a complicated web of legalities and facts. A late courtroom confrontation between Hunt and the victim's mother is as gripping as any thriller, and sure to break your heart. She, in mourning for her beloved daughter, maintains that Hunt must be guilty. "You are in my prayers," a tearful Hunt tells her quietly.

Throughout the film, Hunt emerges as a likable man with a deep religious faith and an astonishing ability to reject anger and bitterness. In the film's climactic courtroom scene, he gazes silently heavenward after hearing the words for which he's waited nearly 20 years.

(Earlier this year, after the film's completion, Hunt received a restitution payment and an official apology from the city. True to the generous nature we see in the film, he told the Winston-Salem Journal that while he appreciated the apology, "I still think the apology needs to go to Mrs. Sykes and her family, because I'm still living.")

The Trials of Darryl Hunt, which won the documentary prize at the Seattle International Film Festival last year, tells a story that needs to be heard. "I pray that I may turn this injustice into something meaningful," says Hunt at one point. Thanks to Stern, Sundberg and the many people who contributed to the making of this film, he already has.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When you hear of cases like this, and then you see bogus innocence claims like Lonnie Johnson, Kevin Cooper, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Darrell Grayson, to name but a few, you have to wonder whether those cases suck up oxygen from true injustices like those of Darryl Hunt and hurt the chances of the Darryl Hunt's of the world.

It's nice to see that Mr. Hunt has kindness for Ms. Sykes mother. She has suffered an injustice as well.

Innocence has to be a priority in the justice system. It has to. After all, isn't that an integral part of justice? It also means that the Lonnie Johnson type nonsense has to stop. When will responsible abolitionists rein in their overzealous cohorts?