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  • preppy-319 June 2006
    Documentary about Darryl Hunt--a black man in the south who is wrongly accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Film moves slowly but it really has to. It shows, step by step, that Hunt was a victim of racism and ended up spending NINETEEN YEARS in jail for a crime he did not commit.

    Very difficult to watch--I broke down crying three times during this one. The film isn't one sided either--they interview people who were for AND against Hunt and their reasoning. It became very clear that he was railroaded into jail and the police did everything in their power to keep him there--including destroying evidence that would have cleared him.

    Shattering and thoroughly fascinating. A 10 all the way.
  • This film is a sweeping, comprehensive and harrowing account of one man's nightmarish journey through a biased, racist and inept justice system. If you liked "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills" or "The Thin Blue Line," this is a movie for you. However, much of the injustice here, conversely, is racially motivated in nature, and like the aforementioned, heaping with negligence and corruption perpetrated by "the man." Not to be taken lightly at all, dear Darryl spent 20 years of his life in prison on the basis of an erroneous conviction. A 1994 DNA test exonerated him 1o years into his sentence, clearing him of rape and murder, yet, North Carolina's courts didn't want to hear it, and Hunt served another 10 years before finally being released in 2004. Truly horrifying. Why aren't some of these corrupt D.A.'s and policemen behind bars - for they took a life, or the better part of one? Overall, this film is fairly presented, is executed exceptionally well and profoundly powerful.

    Which begs the question: how many more Darryl Hunts are really out there?
  • On August 10, 1984, Deborah Sykes, a young, white newspaper editor living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was brutally raped and murdered by an unknown assailant. Suspicion quickly fell on a black man by the name of Darryl Hunt, even though no weapon or physical evidence linking him to the crime was ever brought forth by the police investigating the case. This meant that Hunt was essentially convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment solely on the basis of what even the most disinterested of observers would conclude was eyewitness testimony of a shockingly shoddy nature. Due to the racist overtones that inevitably attach themselves to such a crime, the case quickly became a political cause celebre in the press, leading to stark racial divisions in the community and to various retrials over the years.

    Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, the makers of "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," began actively chronicling the events of this story at around the time of the second trial. They've combined file footage - i.e. news reports and interviews - from the time of the original trial with what they themselves have filmed over a decade and a half of involvement with the case. The result is an eye-opening but often depressing look at the sorry state of the legal system in this country. Yet, the movie is also a celebration of those who never gave up fighting for the cause of justice not merely for this one man and others like him but for the system itself.

    Most impressive of all is Hunt himself, who despite being incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit, has managed to hold onto a purity of spirit that shines forth through his every word and action. I doubt many of us could endure such an ordeal and still emerge this untainted and optimistic about life. But somehow Hunt has.

    This tremendously moving film will have you thinking long and hard about just how difficult it can be for a single individual to achieve true justice in this world, but it will also leave you with the hope that, thanks to people like Darryl Hunt and those - both black and white - who have stood and fought alongside him for so long now, the situation just might get a whole lot better in the future.
  • I saw this at the IDA Festival, ArcLight, Los Angeles. It's about how racism and also the pressure police and DA's feel to obtain convictions can sometimes trump justice. Here, on shaky evidence, African-American Darryl Hunt goes to prison for 19 ½ years for the rape and murder of a young white woman.

    There are many death row and miscarriage of justice stories, and like this one, they all mostly sympathize with the accused. For me, DEAD MAN WALKING is a model of balancing sympathy for the victim and their loved ones with sympathy for the railroaded convict. My group's after-movie conversation explored how exactly the system went wrong – how did the DA justify to himself not giving out the state's files to the defense (this was uncovered by a journalist years later, after numerous appeals had been denied)? After the initial conviction by an all-white jury divided the community along racial lines, why did the judge in the second trial decide to try the case again in an all-white area? We weren't discounting racism or sloppy police work or a judge or DA motivated by political expedience, but we all felt people rarely act with purely malicious intent, life tends to be much less simple. We each resisted when the film would show the DA or his witnesses in a bad light, encouraging us to mutter "those racist bastards" or "he's definitely innocent" under our breath. The film spends a lot more time with Darryl and his supporters (all of whom seem moral and sympathetic) than with the victim's family, so one's natural inclination becomes to WANT Darryl to be innocent (i.e. the filmmakers know the outcome and are leading us there). But since we don't know how it would turn out, we feel a little nudged, and personally, when nudged, I tend to stand my ground or even push back. In spite of the shaky police and DA work, just as the filmmakers didn't know for sure over those ten years, as I watched I always kept alive the possibility Darryl was not completely innocent. Despite what an odd and not particularly accessible character the victim's mother was, I never forgot what it must have been like to be her (or worse yet, the victim), nor the incredibly tough job of a DA and police department to make their community feel that they can not only catch but convict the criminals who harm their citizens. I was glad the film included the mother's last speech in the court, where she looks Darryl and the judge in the eye and expresses her total conviction that no matter what the DNA evidence says or the court does, she's certain Darryl raped and killed her daughter. It's a brutal, harrowing moment no fictional feature can hope to match. Darryl's response and the very ending of the film are powerful, too, and while you can probably guess what happens, you can't guess exactly, and I won't spoil it.

    The film struck me in a broader, deeper sense, too. Daryl and his wife and everyone involved in contesting the verdict over nineteen years, including the filmmakers, beautifully illustrated how when people endure hardship and injustice, events can and often do align in profound, amazing ways, too. Living proof of MLK's adage that unearned suffering can be redemptive for the soul. (Spoiler alert: if you're worried, skip the rest of this paragraph) A young white legal team loses the case but decides to make it the focus of their professional lives. A former Black Panther decides to organize the community in protest and begins a defense fund which sustains the nearly twenty year effort. After ten years in jail, Darryl gets a brief furlough and on his first day of freedom, meets the woman who becomes his wife and his rock through the hard times to come. Darryl is partially exonerated by a DNA test and offered his freedom if he'll plea bargain down to a lesser crime but decides to go back to jail rather than admit any guilt. Fifteen years and many unsuccessful appeals later, out of the blue, a local reporter decides to do an 8-part front-page series on the case, which turns up new leads. Two young filmmakers are on hand to capture these events as they happen, live, and stick it out ten years wondering whether the convict they're hoping is innocent actually is.

    It was also powerful to see the people who the documentary is about and the filmmakers together at the Q&A after the screening, seeing what they are doing with their lives now. What for Darryl (and his family and supporters) was a 20-year tragedy has blossomed into a better, more purposeful, fulfilling life than he'd have probably ever known, and the same is true of all who helped see this through. The story is a testament to Darryl and his supporters' courage, determination and faith. The whole incredible sequence of events encouraged in me a knowledge so oft-forgot (or trivialized) it cannot be overstated, in the goodness of life and our fellow human beings. After an emotional Q&A, rather than ask a question, the last audience member, an older woman, offered her gratitude to all of the participants and filmmakers for who they were and what they were doing with their lives. It was simple and moving. She spoke for me and I think everyone. That the film evoked such generosity of spirit perfectly illustrated what we'd already received from it.

    The film-making is excellent, too. Great music, on purpose, clear, dramatic and human. One of the best documentaries of this type I've seen, seriously. I can't imagine what Darryl went through, nor what his friends and family and the filmmakers went through as this all played out, disappointment after hopeless disappointment. And let's never forget the victims and the wreckage left behind, either. Disturbing, yet inspiring, check it out.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This film tells the story of a man so decent, so patient, and so forgiving of the injustices done to him, that if it were fiction, it would seem completely implausible. I saw it at the Bend Film Fesitval a couple years ago. At the end of the film, Darryl walked out onto the stage to a tearful two minute standing ovation.

    It's one thing to hear a story of a man who is wrongly accused and to be angry with the system that failed him, and quite another to see the man behave in such a saintly manner.

    The film is shot and edited superbly, and takes you through the roller coaster ride of hope and despair that Darryl, his family, and the community that called him their son went through for decades. You feel the pain of the people involved, and the joy of seeing that justice is eventually done is tempered by the fact that Darryl lost such a large portion of his life.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is a hard film to watch, but I had the honor of watching it at the Sidewalk Festival in Alabama this year and then got the chance to meet Mr. Hunt as well as his attorney and his good friend and supporter Mr. Little.

    The amazing thing about this story is the way people on the outside worked so hard and held on to hope for so long for this man. In meeting him, it is extraordinary to find someone so soft spoken who has such inner strength to survive in hell for nearly 20 years.

    Very well crafted film that shows the anguish of the family of the victim and the moments where it seems all hope is gone for Hunt.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    While this documentary overlooks the fact that Darryl Hunt was no choirboy before his original murder conviction, it does a stellar job in showing how he was framed and the dogged determination of the "justice" system to see that that wrongful conviction was upheld. Much of his persecution was simply due to poor police work and overzealous prosecution, than deliberate malfeasance, but it cost this man a third of his life. The most poignant part is the literal trials as well as the tribulations he underwent before he was ultimately exonerated. An extraordinary documentary that anyone who holds the belief that the American system of jurisprudence is fair, impartial and unbiased should be urged to watch.
  • At the North Carolina Public Defender's conference, I had the pleasure of watching this film and meeting Mr. Hunt and his attorneys in person. The film is a well articulated synopsis of the various legal and personal challenges faced by Mr. Hunt during his 19 and a half years in a North Carolina prison for a rape and murder which he never committed.

    As a film watcher, I really enjoyed the linearity and breadth of the narrative as well as the compelling players involved. The movie is able to explore all of the complexities of the legal procedures without getting bogged down or tedious. The filmmakers followed the case for well over a decade, and at many times in the movie the audience sees events as they unfold in real time. Every lost appeal, every new piece of evidence, and key hearings are well documented and the immediacy of the emotions involved really hits home. Mr. Hunt's case attracted dedicated attorneys and colorful and interesting supporters like Larry Little, who invested their heart and soul into his struggles. The movie refuses to over-sentimentalize Mr. Hunt, instead focusing more upon the systematic forces at work in his case. In fact, no over-sentimentalizing has to be done in this movie. Very few people would have accepted their situation with as much grace or courage as Mr. Hunt did and it shows from the few parts of contemporaneous and recorded dialogue we hear from him.

    As a lawyer, it's a case like this that makes me realize why I sit at the defendant's table. It's idealistic to think that everybody has rights, that at any time a vindictive prosecutor backed by unsympathetic individuals can rob someone of their freedom even in the United States. But it's those very ideals, that conception of rights, that makes criminal defendants worthy of our care and protection.
  • In 1984, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, young white newspaper editor Deborah Sykes is brutally raped and murdered. A man with a history of violence and crime, claiming to be somebody else, phones the police to report that he has seen a young woman killed. A name given during the phone call leads the police to question young black male Darryl Hunt and his friend, and later take them in for further questioning. With a media s**t-storm generated by the slaying of a white woman in a black neighbourhood in a Southern state, what transpired next was one of the most shockingly vindictive miscarriages of justice in recent American history.

    Documentaries surrounding wrongful imprisonments and the many failings of the American judicial system are extremely common, but The Trial of Darryl Hunt is particularly infuriating due to the involvement of Hunt himself; a humble, intelligent man who maintains his innocence and dignity throughout his many trials without a hint of hatefulness towards his accusers. He spent 19 years in prison for his imagined crime, his release only being granted after the exhaustive efforts of his legal team and dedicated community following. Ten years into his term, DNA evidence is presented that clears Hunt, but the judge rules that this only proves he didn't do the deed, not that he wasn't present.

    The film never tries to be anything other than informative, and directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg detail every movement in the case rather than getting over-stuffed with style. It's often an incredibly frustrating watch, made slightly more bearable by the sight of Hunt,older and heavier, being granted his freedom in the opening moments. It shows us a city divided by skin colour, where tension is still high in a country that believes it has moved on from its dark history, and where a black man can be proved guilty by an all-white jury for a crime he didn't do, the only evidence being broken testimony from a known liar, an ex-convict and a man who looks like he's stepped out of the Jim Crow South.
  • This is a very special trial movie, focussing on racial prejudice in the North Carolina "Justice" System in the 1980's. Darryl Hunt was accused of a crime that he did not commit. The black community rallied behind Darryl, supplying money for his defence and giving moral support. The NorthCarolina "Justice" System is shown as incompetent, uncaring and corrupt.

    Darryl Hunt is a very honourable man. He accepted that police can make mistakes, because he is a forgiving person. He made an honourable decision, which made it more difficult for him, because he believed that it was the right thing to do. I could see no bitterness in Darryl, although there must have been times when he was very tempted.

    Eventually the truth started to become more widely known and Darryl had broader support, including the white community. Against all odds, he finally gained his freedom. I was very inspired by those who supported Darry and by Darryl himself. He is a man I would like to know personally.