The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice grew out of one man’s determination to help others after serving more than eighteen years for a crime he never committed. The project is a non-profit organization with three primary goals:
To provide assistance to individuals who have been wrongfully incarcerated.
To help ex-offenders obtain the skills, guidance, and support they need as they return to life outside the prison system and the Pinel law.
To advocate for changes in the justice system so innocent people won’t spend time in prison.
The Project's most important asset is Darryl Hunt. He has spoken to over 200 conferences, schools, film festivals and religious groups to spread his message of reform and compassion. He has played a pivotal role in the state-wide effort to pass a Death Penalty Moratorium Bill and has appeared before a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the death penalty appeals process.
His appearances have contributed to the state-wide adoption of new laws requiring information sharing with defense counsel, procedural changes in eyewitness identification and what is being called the Hunt Effect— a more alert and critical attitude among jurors—in legal proceedings. Mr. Hunt travels nationally speaking on behalf of the Project's mission.
At the press conference on the day of his release – Christmas Eve 2004 - Darryl Hunt made two statements, characteristic of his forgiving and resolute spirit, that serve as inspiration for the DHPFJ. Of his friend, Sammy Mitchell serving a sentence for a crime related to the Deborah Sykes murder investigation, Hunt declared, “No matter what you think of Sammy Mitchell as a person, he is just as innocent as I am.” Of the challenges he and many others – innocent and guilty - face on their release, he said, "If we don’t show love to them while they are in prison, we can’t expect them to show love for us once they are out."
Later, commenting on the policy of the national Innocence Project to reject applications if inmates with less than three years to serve, Mr. Hunt exclaimed, "It doesn’t matter if a person has three years or three days to serve, if they are innocent, they should be exonerated."
While the Deborah Sykes murder investigation and conviction sharply divided Winston-Salem along racial lines for almost twenty years, Mr. Hunt’s spirit and conviction have attracted a bi-racial, interfaith group of people to work together on the Board of Directors and Board of Advisors of the DHPFJ. Guided by his vision, this group of African-American and European-American leaders adopted initiatives to address the racially divisive effects in our community of the flaws in the criminal justice system.
"The Trials of Darryl Hunt" documents a brutal rape/murder in the American South, and offers a deeply personal story of a wrongfully convicted man, Darryl Hunt, who spent twenty years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
In 1984, a young white newspaper reporter, Deborah Sykes, was raped, sodomized and stabbed to death just blocks from where she worked in Winston-Salem, NC.
Based on an ID made by a former Klan member, a 19-year-old black man, Darryl Hunt, was charged. No physical evidence linked Hunt to the crime. Hunt was convicted by an all white jury, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1994, DNA testing cleared Hunt, yet he would spend another ten years behind bars.
The film chronicles this capital case from 1984 through 2004. With personal narratives and exclusive footage from two decades, the film frames the judicial and emotional responses to this chilling crime - and the implications surrounding Hunt's conviction - against a backdrop of class and racial bias in America. This unique look at one man's loss and redemption challenges the assumption that all Americans have the right to unbiased justice.