Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Trials of Darryl Hunt - Documentary Film

Last night at the Innocence Project conference I got to see a new documentary, The Trials of Darryl Hunt.

North Carolina, 1984.
A brutal murder leaves a white woman dead, and a young black man accused. This exclusive portrait of a harrowing wrongful conviction offers a provocative and haunting examination of a community - and a criminal justice system - subject to racial bias and tainted by fear.
It took 20 years for Mr. Hunt, who consistently maintained his innocence, to be exonerated.

Some of those years came after DNA testing of the semen left in the victim showed that he could not have been the rapist. At that point, the prosecutor changed his theory of the case and said that Mr. Hunt must have been a lookout or there in some other capacity. Even another man's confession did not open the prison doors right away. But eventually, a judge looked at the evidence, said that a mistake had been made, and exonerated Mr. Hunt.

During those twenty years, Mr. Hunt's cause was supported by a team of tenacious lawyers, many advocates in Winston-Salem's black community (particularly a man who was an alderman at the time of the arrest and first trial), and the woman who became his wife. One element that created additional pressure was an eight-part series, Murder, Race, Justice, in the Winston-Salem Journal by reporter Phoebe Zerwick.

After the film, Mr. Hunt, one of his attorneys, and one of the filmmakers addressed the audience. It was very moving and gave a sobering look at the potential for miscarriage of justice.

The film will air on HBO in 2007. In the meantime, stay alert for local showings -- for instance, it will be at a documentary film festival in Durham, NC, April 6-9. (I guess people in North Carolina have to do something after basketball season -- and a documentary film series is a great thing to do.)

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