“Darryl Hunt Is Free!” Darryl Hunt Was Released From Jail 15 Years Ago Today, Christmas Eve 2003

Fifteen years ago today a miracle occurred. Darryl Hunt, an innocent man who spent nearly 20 years behind bars for the 1984 rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, was finally released from the Forsyth County jail as a crowd of Hunt’s supporters chanted, “Darryl Hunt is free! Darryl Hunt is free!

It was a joyous occasion. Hunt’s nearly 20 years of persecution, and wrongful incarceration at the hands of the WSPD and Forsyth County DA’s office was finally over.

Hunt’s release from jail was the culmination of years of dedicated work by Larry Little and many other committed members of the Darryl Hunt Defense Committee. At no point was there any credible evidence connecting Darryl Hunt to the rape and murder of Debra Sykes. The fact that it took 20 years to clear Hunt’s name is an indictment of our criminal justice system.

DNA testing in 1994 demonstrated Hunt’s innocence. Astoundingly, that wasn’t enough to free Hunt. Hunt would spend nearly an additional decade in jail after scientific proof of his innocence was produced. It was only when further DNA testing (at the instance of his defense team) connected convicted felon Willard Brown to the Sykes’s case, and Brown subsequently confessed, that D.A. Tom Keith reluctantly released Darryl Hunt from jail on December 24, 1993.

Freeing Darryl Hunt was the work of many determined men and women. But I feel that it is fair to refer to Hunt’s release as a miracle. Because when an innocent Black man’s conviction is overturned in Forsyth County or anywhere else for that matter, it’s a miracle.

Currently, there are two other Black men (that we know of) that were wrongfully convicted in Forsyth County in the 1990s, but still haven’t had their wrongful convictions overturned.

Kalvin Michael Smith was released from jail in 2016, but he has not received exoneration or compensation. John Robert Hayes is still behind bars. His latest appeal will be heard sometime early next year.

During the holiday season, we should remember Darryl Hunt, his life’s work to free the innocent and his tragic death. We should remember Kalvin Michael Smith, who according to the Journal, continues to suffer the effects of serving 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. We should also remember John Robert Hayes, an innocent man who has now served more time behind bars than Darryl Hunt or Kalvin Michael Smith, yet few in Winston have come to his defense. We should remember the countless other Darryl Hunts out there that continue to languish behind bars because of our racist mass incarceration system.



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