Documentary exposes corruption
North Carolina man Darryl Hunt sat in a cell, waiting for justice to finally prevail. Through it all, he kept his faith and continually prayed that the police would catch the real killer.
They did, but only after the justice system stole 20 years of his life.
"The Trials of Darryl Hunt" is a documentary supported by a grant from the Sundance Documentary Fund. The film, directed by Rickie Stern and Annie Sundberg, had its world premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Competition and will show again Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Jim Santy Auditorium.
The film explores the wrongful conviction of Hunt for the rape and murder of a woman in North Carolina. The movie illustrates the overwhelming evidence to support Hunt. His only connection to the crime was a friend that had a history of misdemeanor crimes. DNA testing even proved his innocence, yet Hunt was kept behind bars.
The movie uncovers a corrupt police force and justice system by revealing motives of bribery and intimidation of witnesses.
Before Hunt was charged with the crime, he was bribed with $12,000 to confess that his friend, who was also innocent, was guilty. If Hunt didn’t confess then, the police told him, they would take away his life.
Through multiple trials, Hunt appeared joyful with smiles beaming across his face before the trial. He believed he would be freed each time based on evidence and his innocence. But, prosecutors played on the emotions of the all-white jurors and dismissed scientific proof of his innocence. Ku Klux Klan members also were invited to take the stand.
A member of Hunt’s defense team was quoted in the movie, "If someone’s life wasn’t at stake, the whole script could have been a comedy. The final emotion however, is unbelief."
Through almost 20 years, the meek Hunt sat calm and humble. Never did he appear bitter or angry. He was continually grateful of the support from his community who stuck with him for 20 years.
"Darryl has an incredible spirituality about him," Sundberg said. "He’s always had a sense that God was always working around to protect him. He has no sense of vengeance or retribution. He doesn’t allow it to take over."
Sundberg hopes that audiences will be able to get to know Hunt though the film. Hunt is a man who has taken control of his emotions and is an example of how to overcome tribulation.
"Hopefully (audiences) get to know and empathize with the character and develop a sense of moving forward," Sundberg said. "He has a great sense of humor and an incredible grace about him."
SUndberg said he was a realist and his hope was sometimes broken, but his defense attorney never quit.
About 10 years after the initial charge, Phoebe Zerwick of the "Winston-Salem Journal" in North Carolina began writing a series of stories documenting the inconsistencies and mistakes associated with Hunt’s case. Through the stories, justice finally found an individual who matched the DNA sample associated with Hunt’s case. But it took 10 more years for Hunt to be exonerated.
The movie portrays a man who sat in prison most of his life for a crime he didn’t commit because people wanted to win a case. Not because they wanted to find justice or the truth.
The viewer will come away with disbelief and a distrust of the American justice system. The North Carolina African-American community was in fear of a corrupt justice system that might charge them wrongly as well.
The moving documentary is filled with emotion. The complex feelings come from a heart-wrenching pull between Hunt, whose life was stolen, and the mother of the woman killed, who had to relive the experience through multiple trials.
At the end justice was served, Hunt went home with tears of joy, but that doesn’t excuse the failure of the criminal justice system.
"The Trials of Darryl Hunt" will screen Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Jim Santy Auditorium in the Park City Library, 1255 Park Avenue. As part of the program, one of the film’s producers/directors, Annie Sundberg, will be on hand to introduce the film and answer questions in a post-film discussion. Sundberg is a producer/director who works in both film and television. She produced the independent feature film "Tully," which was nominated for four 2003 IFP Spirit Awards. Her additional credits include a four-part series on the Mayo Clinic for Discovery Health (2004) and the 1996 Academy Award and Emmy winning "One Survivor Remembers," a co-production of HBO and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. She is also teaming with Rickie Stern on their next documentary "The Devil Came on Horseback," the story of Brian Steidle and the Darfur crisis, produced in association with Global Grassroots. She is currently at work on her first screenplay.
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The Sundance Film Festival will require people attending screenings or other festival events in Utah in 2022 to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, an important public health step as organizers continue to plan for an in-person event after the festival moved to an online platform this year due to concern over the sickness.