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Author Phoebe Zerwick revisits Darryl Hunt's wrongful conviction and bittersweet freedom

Editor's note: This episode of SouthBound includes discussions of rape, murder and suicide. We try not to dwell on those things, but if those issues are triggers for you, please listen with care.

Phoebe Zerwick
Photo by Christine Rucker
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In 1984, a young woman named Deborah Sykes was raped and murdered in a field a few blocks from where she worked at the afternoon paper in Winston-Salem.

Police soon focused on a suspect: a 19-year-old named Darryl Hunt. Despite a case that even prosecutors thought was shaky, a jury convicted him of murder and he was sentenced to life in prison.

He spent 19 years there until new DNA evidence proved he hadn’t committed the crime. So, in 2004, after spending half his life in prison, Hunt went free. Except “free” is not exactly the right word.

Hunt became an advocate for other prisoners, and a documentary turned him into a bit of a celebrity. But he struggled with depression and anger. He took drugs. And in 2016, he killed himself in a shopping center parking lot.

Journalist Phoebe Zerwick wrote a series of stories in 2003 that helped free Hunt from prison. Now Zerwick, who teaches at Wake Forest, has written a book about Hunt’s life before during and after his prison term. The book is called “Beyond Innocence: The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt.” It’s an extremely appropriate title.

Show notes

Other music in this episode

  • Lobo Loco, "Spirit of Freedom"
  • Ending Satellites, "We're From Near and Far"
Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.