Local News

Wrongfully-Convicted Former Inmates Seek More Than Freedom

Posted February 6, 2004

— Though the nightmare is over for Darryl Hunt, others wrongfully convicted of crimes still await their justice.

Friday, a judge in Winston Salem dropped all charges against Hunt, who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Two different juries wrongly convicted Hunt of murdering a woman back in 1984. He was released on bond last December, a few days after police arrested a man named Willard Brown on various charges.

A sample of Brown's DNA matched DNA found with the victim in Hunt's murder case, a woman named Deborah Sykes.

Like Hunt, others who have served time in North Carolina prisons also have had their cases thrown out. But, they say they are still waiting for justice.

Gov. Mike Easley is considering more than 140 cases of former inmates all hoping for pardons to clear their names. Their wait could be long, and their chances slim.

Under state law, those who are granted pardons are eligible for compensation from the state.

Thomas Parker, of Goldsboro, was imprisoned for nearly four years after a witness said he saw Parker rob a store in 1999.

Parker was arrested even though other witnesses said he had been in another state, the robber was nearly 6 feet tall and Parker just 5 feet 4 inches tall, and his fingerprints did not match.

His trial lasted 37 minutes.

"I'm sitting there thinking this is the justice system," Parker said. "All the while, I'm saying this is unjust."

Years later, Parker's case made it to federal judge Terrence Boyle. Boyle ruled that no reasonable jury would have convicted Parker had it heard all the evidence, and Parker was released.

Now, more than a year later, Parker is waiting on a pardon from Easley.

"It only took 37 minutes to take my life away from me, but now you want to take your time," Parker said.

Since taking office in 2001, Easley's office has taken 199 requests for pardons. He has denied 56 and granted only one -- Lesley Jean was pardoned after spending close to 20 years in prison for a wrongful rape conviction.

Two years ago, Terence Garner was freed after a judge threw out his Johnston County robbery conviction.

Garner, Parker and 140 others are still waiting in line for pardons.

Dr. Thomas Walker, chairman of the state's Martin Luther King Commission, believes Parker deserves an answer.

"I think the governor needs to take another look at this whole process," Dr. Walker said. "Everything that has been stolen from him (Parker), taken from him, ought to be restored as quickly as possible."

A small sampling of cases found mistaken identity as the leading cause of wrongful convictions.

Out of 62 cases across the country, 52 involved the wrong ID. Thirty-two had problems testing blood samples, and 26 involved either police or prosecutor misconduct.

"If you did wrong, you've got to pay," Parker said. "I didn't do wrong. I paid. So, now, (the state is) in the wrong."

No one from the governor's office wanted to talk to WRAL on camera about the issue. A spokesman said only that it takes time to review each case thoroughly.

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