BY TEVIN STINSON OF THE CHRONICLE (WINSTON SALEM)
Less than 12 hours after reports surfaced that Darryl Hunt was found dead inside a vehicle in the 2800 block of University Parkway, nearly 200 residents came together Sunday evening, March 13, to celebrate his life.
According to public records, Dr. Larry Little contacted the Winston-Salem Police Department for assistance in locating Hunt, who was last seen nine days earlier in the Garfield Court area. Just after 12 a.m. on Sunday, officers found Hunt unresponsive inside a 1999 white Ford truck in a parking lot near the Lawrence Joel Veterans Coliseum.
As of Monday, the cause of death was unknown. The Criminal Investigations Division has assumed the investigation and will be releasing more information as the investigation progresses.
During Monday night’s City Council meeting, City Council Member Dan Besse spoke about Hunt’s passing, saying the city has lost a community leader.
“We all know that Mr. Hunt was a forgiving man,” he said. “His life became a symbol of determination and endurance for justice.”
Hunt’s funeral service has been set for 1 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 1075 Shalimar Dr.
In 1984, Hunt was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, a white copy editor at the Sentinel, a newspaper in the city.
Less than a month after his arrest, The Chronicle raised questions about the initial investigation, which stated officers were looking for two African-American males, neither of which matched Hunt’s description. The Sept. 20, 1984, edition of the paper also notes accounts from friends of Hunt who stated they were with him during the time of the murder.
After serving nearly 20 years in prison for the crime, Hunt was released in 2004. It was then he dedicated his life to educating the public about flaws in the criminal justice system and providing resources and support for those trying to rebuild their lives.
Through The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice, and by speaking to law students across the state, that’s exactly what he did.
In 2008, Hunt told a group of law students at Wake Forest University that innocence projects are a lifeline.
“If you can imagine yourself somewhere and you know that you don’t belong there, then you can feel the pain that so many people feel that are innocent and crying out for help.”
Hunt also spoke out against the execution of Troy Davis in 2011. Davis was convicted of killing an off duty Savannah, Georgia, police officer, but many questioned the evidence in the case. Most of the witnesses that helped convict Davis recanted their stories. Hunt attended the hearing to show his support.
Just last month, Hunt spoke during a rally held for Kalvin Michael Smith, the Winston-Salem man who is currently serving a 29-year sentence for the assault of Jill Marker at the Silk Plan Forest store in 1977.
Hunt told students from Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University and Salem College to demand that justice be served.
“Justice has to come down,” said Hunt. “We have to demand justice because what happened to Kalvin can happen to anyone of you.”
During the vigil, dozens of members of the community talked about how Hunt’s legacy and fight for racial and social unity impacted their lives. Former member of the project Timothy Smith said he grew up with Hunt and his friend had one of the best hearts that you could ever see in a person.
Former executive director of the Darryl Hunt Project Pam Peoples-Joyner said Hunt encouraged her to be a voice for the voiceless. She also mentioned she is confident that his work will continue through the hundreds of people he has touched over the years.
Peoples-Joyner fought to hold back tears as she recalled the good times she shared with Hunt working with the project.
“I’m a better person because of Darryl Hunt,” she said. “I made a promise to him that I will continue to fight for second chances and for those who are often overlooked in the community.
The president of the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, Bishop Todd Fulton, said when he first got the news of Hunt’s death, he had a lot of questions for God. Fulton said he then realized that Hunt is now free.
“I realize now that Darryl is no longer bound by the chains of injustice,” he continued. “Yes, we will mourn and grieve, but ultimately we know he is free.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: AT PRESS TIME, MR. HUNT’S DEATH WAS RULED A SUICIDE.