Police say Darryl Hunt, man exonerated in North Carolina murder case, committed suicide

Darryl Hunt (image courtesy WGHP)

A man who spent 19 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit had been diagnosed with cancer before he died of what police believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a friend and minister said Wednesday.

Darryl Hunt had been diagnosed with prostate and stomach cancer, the Rev. John Mendez said. His divorce also had contributed to his depression, Mendez said.

"We knew the demons that he had fought without, but I don't think everybody knew the demons he had to fight within," Mendez said.

Police said Wednesday that the 51-year-old Hunt died of a single gunshot wound to his torso and that he likely died by suicide. They say a handgun was found inside the locked vehicle and that investigators found no evidence of a struggle.

The car with Hunt's body inside it was discovered Sunday near the Wake Forest University campus. Authorities say they're awaiting final autopsy results.

Hunt was convicted twice in the death of newspaper copy editor Deborah Sykes, narrowly avoiding the death penalty in the first trial. He was exonerated in February 2004 on the basis of DNA evidence that led police to another suspect, who confessed.

Then-Gov. Mike Easley pardoned Hunt, and the state awarded him more than $300,000. The city of Winston-Salem awarded him more than $1.6 million, and a report by a citizens review committee uncovered mistakes in the police investigation.

The year after he was released, Hunt founded The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice Inc., a nonprofit organization that, among other purposes, advocated for the wrongly convicted. He also was the subject of a 2006 documentary titled "The Trials of Darryl Hunt."

"His compassion for others consumed most of his time and space and effort," Mendez said. "I would like people to reflect upon his legacy and reconciliation more than what he had to struggle with within."

Hunt's struggles dated back to his childhood, when his mother was murdered, Mendez said. Attorney Mark Rabil told the Winston-Salem Journal that Hunt's mother, Doris, was killed when he was 10 years old, two weeks after he learned she was his mother. He never knew his father.

The funeral for Hunt, who was a Muslim, will be held Saturday at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, where Mendez is the minister. Hunt had expressed interest a few weeks ago in joining the church, Mendez said.
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