Through the negotiations last week that led to Darryl Hunt’s release, Winston-Salem, N.C., District Attorney Tom Keith appeared to be clinging to old theories that could tie Hunt to the 1984 murder of Deborah Sykes, the Winston-Salem Journal says. But in an interview, Keith all but apologized for the mistakes that led to Hunt’s imprisonment, and he said that the justice system needs to learn from those mistakes.
A new suspect was charged with the killing last week. The court order releasing Hunt said Willard E. Brown confessed that he acted alone when he raped and killed Sykes. Brown was identified after DNA testing found a match between him and the semen collected from the crime scene. Police never had physical evidence to link Hunt to Sykes’ murder, and when DNA testing in 1994 ruled him out as the rapist, Keith opposed Hunt’s request for a new trial. “When this is all over with, I’d like to meet with him and talk to him and ask what he thinks we should have done. Nobody wants this to happen again,” Keith said. “He’s a man who had 19 years in prison for Mr. Brown’s crime. Hopefully this wouldn’t happen again. I’m sorry that it did. We will do better.”
The case has divided the community for almost 20 years, pitting law enforcement against Hunt’s supporters, who have argued from the start that he was wrongly accused. That ill will carried over into the events leading up to Hunt’s release, with Keith first saying that Brown could be the third suspect that authorities long believe had to be involved. Keith declined to say whether he expects Hunt’s conviction to be overturned at a hearing Feb. 6. “From what I know now it certainly appears, I would say things look very good for Mr. Hunt,” Keith said. “I pray to God that this teaches.”