Once upon a time, a man was unjustly imprisoned. DNA and dogged work freed him after 19 years. He lived happily ever after. Sorry, that last part didn’t happen. Even with DNA evidence, he almost didn’t get exonerated. Beyond Innocence: The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt details Hunt’s journey from teen to convicted killer, innocent freed man, and activist with many twists. But the saddest part is what happened to him after freedom, and how it illustrates the plight of most of the exonerated. That is not as exclusive a club as you might think. According to author Phoebe Zerwick, “As of May 2021, 2,783 men and women in America have been exonerated since 1989…The National Registry of Exonerations calculate the combined years they lost at 24,915.”
Zerwick wrote about Hunt in the Winston-Salem Journal and has spent years on his case. Hunt was not just railroaded. Police falsified evidence; a judge unbelievably ruled DNA evidence was insufficient to warrant a new trial. A faithful cadre of supporters and the author’s newspaper series resulted in deliberately overlooked evidence being reexamined and finding the true killer. Only then was Hunt released. But Hunt’s case shows how the system continues to fail. Hunt briefly had a foundation to aid released prisoners. Years of prison life and post-release limitations lead to PTSD, depression, and often recidivism. Hunt’s friends realized too late he was leading a double life – calm outside, but in agony inside. They couldn’t stop him from taking his life. But if enough people pay attention to his story, perhaps others can be helped.
Beyond Innocence : The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt by Phoebe Zerwick, (List Price: $27, Atlantic Monthly Press, 9780802159373, March 2022)
Reviewed by Rosemary Pugliese from Malaprop’s in Asheville, NC