Review of The Trials of Darryl Hunt Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern
Rating **** 1/2
I have always been drawn to stories of wrongful convictions. I can think of no greater injustice. This film is nearly on par with my favorite documentary on the subject Murder On A Sunday Morning.
Every wrongful conviction story has most if not all of the following elements: poor investigative work by the police, dubious eye witness testimony, unethical or incompetent prosecuting attorneys, inexperienced or incompetent defense attorneys, and indifferent or hostile juries. This story is one that has all of those elements.
It all begins with the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes. An eye witness reports the crime as it is occurring. The witness, however, has a troubled past and decides to use a fictitious name. He uses the name Samuel Mitchel when he makes the call. The incompetent police decide that this Samuel Mitchel must be involved in the crime. Turns out the police know a Samuel Mitchel. When they finally track him down they discover that he did not make the call. The real caller was Johnny Gray. The police then surmise that they both must be involved, despite the fact that the two men have never met. But there are problems with their case. Neither man matches the description of other eye witnesses. No problem. Samuel Mitchel has a good friend. He must be the guy. And thus begins the sad tale of Darryl Hunt.
That Darryl Hunt has an alibi is of no importance to the police. That there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime is of no concern to the prosecuting attorney. Add in inexperienced defense attorneys and a mostly white jury and you have the necessary ingredients for a wrongful conviction.
Where this story really becomes almost unbelievable is when DNA testing excludes all three of the primary suspects, including Darryl Hunt, yet the judge not only does not overturn the conviction he denies a new trial, stating that the DNA testing only proves that he didn’t rape the victim. It didn’t exclude him from killing her. Even though he was convicted and sentenced for rape and murder.
Denzel Washington portrayed a character who was wrongfully convicted in the film The Hurricane. There is a scene in this documentary that reminded me of Denzel’s performance. Darryl’s attorneys call him in jail to inform him that his request for a new trial has been denied. You don’t have to see Darryl to know the anguish this news brings him.
Darryl is finally cleared of all charges when a DNA match identifies the real murderer. Even then his freedom was not a certainty. the state still tried to claim that he must still have been involved in some way. Certainly the state was not guilty of confining a man wrongfully convicted for nearly twenty years.
The sad part of this story is that many of the people whose incompetence, arrogance, and unethical behavior led to this miscarriage of justice are still working in the system.
The one person who remains strong throughout the ordeal is Darryl Hunt. He refuses plea deals. He survives prison life. And he never talks bitterly against any of the people who denied him due process. He is a better man than any of his accusers.