The Cost is F’d Up Part Two
Written by Brandi Abbott
On August 10th, 1984 the body of a woman who had been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death was found. A witness stated that he had seen the victim with a black man named Darryl Hunt the morning before she had been murdered. Another witness claimed they had seen her with another man who couldn’t have done it but then changed their statement to say they had seen her with Darryl after being pressed by the police. Darryl’s girlfriend was arrested for outstanding charges against her, but was most likely arrested so the police could get more information on Darryl. She told them that he had confessed to her that he had murdered the victim. Darryl maintained his innocence, but was tried for first degree murder. Many of the witnesses testified that he had either been seen with the victim or covered in blood, but he testified that he didn’t even know the victim. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. It’s possible that his jury was completely white but there are conflicting reports. One holdout on the jury prevented him from being sentenced to death.
When Darryl was convicted, the black community was upset to say the least. The black community thought he was innocent, whereas the white community thought he was guilty. The case was extremely racially charged, even in prison because the victim was a young successful white woman. Darryl told Larry that he was a target for the skinheads. After five years in prison, Darryl’s conviction was overturned because it was revealed that the prosecutors presented Darryl’s ex-girlfriend’s statement, which she had recanted even before the trial. He was released on bond while he awaited a new trial and was offered a plea deal that if he just pled guilty he could have time served and not spend another day in prison. As he was innocent, he refused.
Darryl was retried in front of all of all-white jury and, as well as the original witnesses, some jailhouse informants showed up to testify. Darryl was convicted for a second time and sentenced to life in prison. During all of this, the SBI had compiled a report that was thousands of pages long, but the trial court opted to not review it and the judge ordered it sealed so that no one would be able to read it. All requests from Darryl’s attorneys, Mark Rabil and Ben Dowling-Sendor, to get the report unsealed were denied. The attorneys requested DNA testing on a semen sample found on the victim because Ben found out that the SBI had more evidence than they were saying, including this sample. Prior to this, the SBI complained that the sample was too degraded to test. Darryl’s attorneys argued that there was witness tampering and evidence that the SBI was clearly concealing. The judge disagreed that there was anything shady going on, but allowed for testing of the semen sample.
In October of 1994, the test results came back and Darryl was not a match to the sample. The victim’s mother begged for there not to be a third trial as she had already been through it twice. The judge refused to exonerate Darryl, saying the case was only somewhat weakened by this evidence, and believed that Darryl could still be guilty. Darryl’s attorneys appealed many times but were continuously denied.
In February of 2003, Darryl was still in prison even though it had been 19 years since he was convicted and 10 years since he proved his innocence. Darryl’s attorneys requested that the semen sample be run through the state database and it got a match. The match was for a man named Willard Brown who confessed to the crime. He was allegedly in prison at the time of the murder, but according to the movie “The Trials of Darryl Hunt”, Mark Rabil found out he had been released prior to the murder. Mark also discovered that there may have been another victim who survived and the police may have coerced her into not pressing charges against Brown for some unknown reason and destroyed evidence of this crime. The DA tried to delay Darryl’s release because they were sure they had their man. However, with overwhelming evidence that he was innocent, Darryl was released from prison on December 24th, 2003. He had to go before a judge six weeks later and prove his innocence again, and Darryl Hunt was finally exonerated in 2004. He received a state payment of $300,000, and, when he sued the city of Winston-Salem, received a settlement of over 1.6 million dollars.
Every case F’d Up has covered has been settled which Jess says protects the system and prevents it from having to admit culpability. The Innocence Project and Center on Actual Innocence makes a difference by showing law enforcement and the public that there are people in prison who are actually innocent, which will go a long way towards helping these injustices. Prosecutors will sometimes do press conferences saying they just didn’t have enough evidence which places doubt in the public’s eye about the exonerated. Kim Cook said that a public apology instead could go a long way. If you’re exonerated and return to where you once lived, the community may recognize you from the crime you were convicted of and not as someone exonerated from that crime. Saundra and Kim reference a woman who was wrongfully convicted of killing her child and exonerated. She returned to her hometown, but most people still believed she was a monster. Facing an accusatory community can be an added stressor, and extremely frustrating.
The trauma of a wrongful conviction doesn’t just affect the exoneree, their family and loved ones are affected as well. According to a report called “Who Pays: The True Cost of Incarceration on Families”, the US spends 80 billion dollars to lock away more than 2.4 million people in jails and prisons. This has a huge impact on people who are “already stigmatized, penalized, and punished.” Unjust policy has created a legacy of collateral impacts that last for generations, especially in women, low income families, and communities of color. If a family is already struggling financially before a member goes to jail, the loss of income and court related costs can add up and create a financial hole. There are also charges for phone calls or emails with a prisoner, care packages, and costs related to visiting such as traveling or possibly lodging depending on how far away they are incarcerated. In short, outside of the costs of court fees and just losing their income, it’s going to cost you quite a lot just to communicate with your incarcerated love one. Also according to that report, families who are not able to speak with or visit their loved one are more likely to report experiencing negative affects on their health. The report says that these affects hit women and people of color the hardest deepening the societal divides that push many into the criminal justice system in the first place. Almost one in every four women and two in every five black women specifically are related to someone incarcerated. The system is set up to keep people of color down.
It can take a year from being released to actually be pardoned and, as we learned last week, an exoneree must be pardoned to get the state allocated money. If an exoneree’s record is not expunged or sealed, it can be extremely difficult to reenter the work force. The question “have you ever been convicted of a felony” is a kind of a trick question to an exoneree because there’s not exactly a box to check for “yes, but I didn’t do it”. According to the Innocence Project, it can take three or four years for a criminal record to be expunged. This can affect more than jobs, as landlords may not want to rent to you after they run your background check, you can’t provide work history or credit history for a mortgage, and Section 8 housing doesn’t allow convicted felons. The system sets the exoneree up for failure, and they often can end up homeless which can lead the exoneree back on the path to prison.
The article “How Private Equity is Turning Private Prisons Into Big Profits” states that “Poverty in particular perpetuates the cycle of incarceration while incarceration leads to greater poverty.’ Estimates say that nearly 40% of all crimes are a result of poverty, and the majority of incarcerated people are low income. Because of extremely problematic policies, by 1985 prisons in 34 states were under court supervision for violating constitutional rights of prisoners. President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs had begun, leading to a steady influx of newly incarcerated American’s. Priya tells us that 1985 was around the time she lived in DC and that homelessness and gangs were on the rise. Her dad was a White House press photographer for UPI, and would walk past the homeless people at the gates of the White House, who President Reagan claimed didn’t exist. Her dad took a photograph of a homeless man there, started getting to know some of the regulars he encountered, and was, in general, taking really powerful photographs. One of the people he would speak to recommended he go to one of the homeless shelters. When he got there, the kids really wanted to play with his cameras so he taught them how to use them, and let them shoot photos. He noticed that their photographs were much lighter and had more hope than his own which were more serious and taken from an adult perspective. He ended up leaving UPI and started a non-profit called Shooting Back where kids would take photos, develop them, and he and some of the kids would travel the country educating others on the homeless situation. This program helped kids steer clear of getting involved in gangs, Priya says she remembers that one of the kids who wasn’t in the program for very long ended up being a victim of murder but she’s unsure of it was gang related but that considering the climate, it’s possible it was. She remembers that another kid who went through the program sent her dad an email a few years ago thanking him for helping him stay out of prison, because he’s certain that’s where he would have ended up. She says the cycle can be broken and arts education can help. Reagan ended up recanting his statement on homeless people and Priya says she believes that the work of her dad and others contributed to that. She says that the reason she’s telling the story is that there were people, including her dad, at that time in the most powerful city in the nation trying to help but the government kept pushing forward with what was in front of their eyes instead of getting to the root of the issue.
A woman named Bianca Tylek, the founder of an advocacy group called Worth Rises has cataloged 3,100 companies with a financial stake in mass incarceration. Jess says that incarceration is good for business, just terrible for people.
In 2005, Darryl Hunt founded The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice, a non-profit dedicated to educating people about criminal justice reform, advocating for the wrongfully convicted, and providing resources to individuals who were recently released from prison. A reporter from the local paper interviewed Darryl Hunt in 2014. It had been 10 years since his exoneration and he still felt the conditioning of prison. He would pause before doors and wait for them to automatically open. If he left the house, prior to his return, Darryl would drive to an ATM and withdraw money, simply to have his face photographed so that there would be a record of his movements. Darryl said he never left his home without fear of being picked up for something he didn’t do on his mind. He also said that he refused to celebrate the anniversaries of his exoneration. He recognized the miracle of it and was grateful for it, but said for others around him it would be a celebration but for him it would just be reliving it. The article says that Darryl’s attorney, Mark Rabil, and Darryl became extremely good friends. The racial divide had not ended with Darryl’s exoneration, if Darryl and Mark went out to dinner in a more black neighborhood, everyone knew and loved Darryl. However, if they went out to dinner in a more white neighborhood, it would be quieter as he didn’t know many people and some kept their distance. Priya said it’s interesting to her that some of the people they have covered have moved out of North Carolina. Not that anyone can blame them as I’m sure it’s a constant reminder of what happened and they’re surrounded by people who still only see them as a convicted felon. Darryl did not move, however. He said he stayed in Winston-Salem because it made people uncomfortable. If people had a constant reminder of the injustice he went through, maybe it wouldn’t happen again. Because he worked in justice reform, he would spend time in courtrooms. Mark Rabil said his face was a reminder to the people who put him away and that some DAs would cross the street to avoid him. When he walked into a courtroom, it would go quiet. In the same year Darryl was exonerated, he dedicated his life to justice reform. In addition to his non-profit, he worked with the Innocence Injustice Clinic at Wake Forest University School of Law where he helped people get their criminal records expunged and spoke publicly, allowing law students to ask him about his case. He joined the board of directors for the Center on Actual Innocence. He helped advocated for the Racial Injustice Act of 2009, which basically forbade race from being a factor in the pursuit of the death penalty. He was working non-stop and was the type who could never say no to the point of personal risk to his mental health. It was like he was paying something back. Priya says that all of this work was clearly taking a toll on him. Darryl’s friend Mark Rabil was quoted as saying “He was the voice of the voiceless who was wounded by 20 years of wrongful incarceration and taking on the burdens of so many people and fighting systems that can’t be changed in one lifetime.” On March 13th 2016, Darryl Hunt completed suicide.
Darryl Hunt has an incredible legacy. In North Carolina, anyone over the age of 16 can be tried as an adult, and, if convicted, may not be eligible for financial aid in schools when they get out. Many people, guilty or not, want to do better when released and want to start with an education. Darryl told friends that education is the key to breaking the cycle of incarceration. In 2017, the Darryl Hunt Memorial Scholarship was set up to help provide tuition to those that had been convicted of crimes. Darryl’s legacy is amazing but it doesn’t change the fact that he died. His friend and lawyer Mark Rabil was the only constant in his life, as his own mother had been murdered and the case was never solved. Mark told the Winston-Salem Journal that 19 years of wrongful incarceration is what killed Darryl Hunt.
Darryl got to taste freedom, at least for a moment. Next week’s episode will revisit the audit because not everyone got that chance. Seven of the cases on the audit’s list were sentenced to death and we’ll learn more about those cases and death row, itself.