CDPL board member Darryl Hunt, a tireless advocate for ending the death penalty and helping the wrongly convicted, has died.
In 1985, at just 19 years old, Darryl was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Deborah Sykes, a 25-year-old newspaper copy editor who was raped and stabbed 16 times while on her way to work in Winston-Salem. He was nearly sentenced to death, but a single juror refused to vote for his execution. Darryl spent 19 years in prison before he was finally released in 2004.
Although DNA results proved his innocence in 1994, it took another 10 years of legal appeals to exonerate him. The state fought his release until another man finally came forward and confessed to the crime.
As soon as he was released, Darryl joined the movement to end the death penalty and founded the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and justice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about criminal justice reform opportunities, advocating for the wrongfully convicted, and supporting people who are recently released from prison.
He traveled across North Carolina, and across the country, telling his story and using his case to illustrate the flaws of the criminal justice system. His advocacy was key to the passage of the groundbreaking N.C. Racial Justice Act in 2009, which allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentences based on evidence of systemic racial bias
Darryl also understood the pain and trauma of murder, because his own mother was murdered when he was a child. That crime was never solved.
In 2012, Darryl received an honorary doctorate from Duke University for his unceasing work. In April, he was to be honored with the ACLU’s Paul Green Award for people who have made important efforts to abolish or reform the death penalty.
Until shortly before his death, he was still speaking in college classrooms and advocating for innocent people in prison. He was passionate but soft spoken and unfailingly generous.
Darryl will be deeply missed by all who knew him. His many contributions to the cause of justice will be his enduring legacy.