Darryl Hunt: Man Exonerated for 1984 Murder of Deborah Sykes Found Dead in Car

After spending almost two decades behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, Darryl Eugene Hunt was found dead in his car Sunday. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina man was exonerated for the 1984 crime by DNA results that proved him innocent.

According to WCVB News, police have not released any details regarding Hunt’s death following the discovery of his body inside a vehicle. Hunt, 51, was reported missing Saturday evening, and a Silver Alert had been issued for him as a result.

Hunt was imprisoned for the murder of Deborah Sykes, a 26-year-old newspaper copy editor. Journal Now reports that Sykes and her husband had been living with her parents while the couple looked for a home in the Winston-Salem area after moving there from Tennessee.

In 2006, the documentary “The Trials of Darryl Hunt” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, depicting Hunt’s story of wrongful conviction and subsequent exoneration for Sykes’ murder, according to IMDB.

According to Journal Now, on the morning of August 10, 1984, Sykes was headed to work, but never made it. She was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death at about 6 a.m. that day.

Sykes’ body was found not far from her workplace and just across the street from a high-rise apartment complex, reports Journal Now. According to the Innocence Project, a man discovered Sykes and called 911 to report an attack. Authorities spoke to the man and his friend, Hunt. The man later said he never called police, and yet another man came forward saying he had made the call.

The Innocence Project notes that another witness came forward saying he had seen Sykes with a man who matched Hunt’s description. The witness subsequently identified Hunt in a police lineup as that man.

In another strange twist, Hunt’s girlfriend at the time, who initially told authorities he had been with her when the crime took place, was arrested for an unrelated crime. She changed her story and said Hunt confessed to killing Sykes. According to the Innocence Project, she recanted that story prior to Hunt’s trial, but prosecutors used her statement anyway.

During Hunt’s trial, eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Hunt with Sykes before the murder. Testimony was also presented that indicated Hunt had been seen at a local hotel where bloody towels were found in the restroom, the Innocence Project reports. Hunt took the stand and told the jury he did not know Sykes and had nothing to do with her killing. Despite his testimony, the jury found Hunt guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison for Sykes’ murder.

Hunt appealed his conviction successfully in 1989 after a higher court found that the statements made by his girlfriend should not have been used in his trial because she had recanted her story, according to the Innocence Project. Hunt was released on bond while prosecutors prepared to try him again for Sykes’ killing. They offered him a plea deal, which involved Hunt saying he was guilty and being sentenced to five years, the time he had already served. Hunt refused and a second trial took place, where he was again found guilty of killing Sykes.

Although in 1994 testing indicated that the DNA found on Sykes did not match Hunt, his appeal for release was denied “on the grounds that the new evidence did not prove innocence,” reports the Innocence Project.

However, a decade later in 2004, the crime scene DNA was run once again and matched a man already behind bars for murder. The DNA was that of Willard E. Brown, who confessed to killing Sykes.

TWC News reports that before Hunt was found dead Sunday, his attorney called police saying no one had seen him for a week. Police are currently investigating his death.

[Photo by Chuck Burton/AP Photo]