After almost two decades behind bars for a rape and murder, Darryl Hunt walked out of a North Carolina prison on Christmas Eve, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. Evidence of his innocence surfaced more than a decade ago, but he was freed only after DNA testing identified the semen in the body of the victim as that of another man. Police this week charged that man, Willard E. Brown, with the crime.
In August 1984, Deborah Sykes, 25, a copy editor at a Winston-Salem newspaper, was raped and stabbed to death on her way to work. Hunt, 19, was arrested and charged with rape and murder. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison twice, in 1985 when prosecutors argued he acted alone, and in a 1990 retrial, when the state said he had two accomplices. Despite DNA evidence that neither Hunt nor his alleged accomplices committed the rape, appeals failed to win a third trial. In April, a judge ordered the state to compare the rape kit collected from Sykes’ body with the state’s DNA database. That analysis led last week to charges against Brown, who confessed and told investigators Hunt was not involved.
A prosecutor said he will investigate the case, which has bitterly divided Winston-Salem along racial lines, to confirm the story. After his release, Hunt, rode with his wife through east Winston-Salem. They went to Emmanuel Baptist Church, whose minister, the Rev. John Mendez, was one of many religious leaders who had supported Hunt since his arrest.