The Trials of Darryl Hunt
Empty8-10 p.m., Thursday, April 26
So here's your plot: A pleasant, shy and soft-spoken, indigent black teenager is convicted in two trials of raping, sodomizing and stabbing to death a young white woman. Judges reject all appeals, even after 1994, when authorities discover that his DNA doesn't match. A third trial is rejected by the North Carolina Supreme Court as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hunt continues to languish in prison -- 19 1⁄2 years, which then made him twice the age as when he entered prison.
Well, executive producers-directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, who worked 10 years on "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," airing tonight on HBO, got a grand ending.
These many years later, a DNA match was finally found, and Willard E. Brown confessed to the 1984 murder and atrocities against young newspaper copy editor Deborah Sykes in Winston-Salem, N.C. Now he is in prison for life.
At long last, Hunt, still quiet and mild-mannered, was granted a pardon of innocence by the North Carolina governor.
The documentary, which plays like a dramatic feature, is nicely accomplished, a gripper, full of classic elements that will excite your emotions. The sheer outrages buried in this story pull you along: the blatant racism and the shoddiness of police, lawyers, judges and juries plus stupidity, indifference, incompetence and probable misconduct.
As with most documentaries, "Hunt" is full of frustrations. The cameras are not always there when you need them, not everybody wants to talk, filmmakers usually side with one party or the other, not everybody is as clear and clean and articulate as you want, etc.
Did nobody notice that one of the key eyewitnesses against young Darryl before the jury of 11 white folk and one black person was a former member of the KKK, which historically has held black people in low esteem?
Nor do we hear from any jurors or judges, including the judge who refused the DNA evidence as perhaps interesting but not germane. Also noticeable among the missing are any members of Winston-Salem's finest.
And this footnote: On Monday, HBO on Demand will begin running a disturbing 23-minute interview film with Regina Lane, who was similarly attacked six months after the Sykes murder and two blocks away from that site. There were compelling similarities in the incidences.
After seeing the "Hunt" film, Lane decided that she would tell her story in terrifying detail, most graphically her bloody fight with her attacker over his knife. She even picked Brown out of a police lineup, but she asserts that police discouraged her from pressing the case and that the physical evidence of the case was destroyed.
THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT
Break Thru Films Inc.
Executive producers-directors: Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg
Producers: Katie Brown, William Rexer II, Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg
Editor: Shannon Kennedy
16mm cinematography: William Rexer II
Additional cinematography: John Foster, Alan Jacobsen, Shannon Kennedy
Original score: Paul Brill
Sound editor: Brad Bergbom
HBO consulting editor: Geof Bartz
HBO supervising producer: Nancy Abraham
HBO executive producer: Sheila Nevins