Arts You. Your friends. Northwest Film Forum. Tonight. Or tomorrow. Or Thursday.
posted by July 31 at 16:22 PMon
Deborah Sykes was a 26-year-old copyeditor at North Carolina’s Winston-Salem Sentinel in the summer of 1984, and one Monday morning she didn’t come to work. It wasn’t like her to be late. The editor of the Sentinel sent some staffers to look for her. They found her car just blocks away from the office and, later that afternoon, her body. She’d been raped and stabbed to death.
Earlier in the day, police had received a call from a pay phone. The caller identified himself as Sammy Mitchell and said that he’d seen a black man and a white woman together in the area where Sykes’s body was found. A shy, smiling, 19-year-old black kid named Darryl Hunt became a suspect because he was friends with a local minor convict named Sammy Mitchell, although, crucially, the person who made that pay phone call wasn’t Sammy Mitchell at all—it was some guy making up a name off the top of his head. When the saliva and pubic hair found on Sykes’s body didn’t match Hunt, police offered him $12,000 to say that his friend Sammy Mitchell committed the crime. Hunt refused. Authorities told Hunt that if he didn’t say what they wanted him to say, they were going to pursue the death penalty against him. Hunt—an honest guy, a man of principle—still refused.
So they went after him. There was no physical evidence linking Hunt to the crime. The only witnesses were an ex–Ku Klux Klansman and a white hotel employee who chose Hunt in a lineup months after another picture of Hunt appeared in newspapers. The jury—all but one of them white—convicted Hunt and sent him to jail for life for a crime he didn’t commit. What I’ve just summarized is only the first 20 minutes of The Trials of Darryl Hunt, and only the very beginning of Hunt’s 20-year legal nightmare, an unbelievable theater of disgust involving smug white lawyers, corrupt prison guards, Christian racists, ignored DNA evidence, witnesses who’d been intimidated out of coming forward, gullible TV news reporters, the North Carolina and United States Supreme Courts, and, at the end of it all, the actual killer. Every American should see this movie.
It plays at 7:00 pm and 9:15 pm tonight at Northwest Film Forum, 7:00 pm and 9:15 pm tomorrow night, and 7:00 pm and 9:15 pm on Thursday night. Then it’s gone. It will come up on Slog tomorrow as a Stranger Suggest, and Gillian already posted about it a couple days ago, but it can’t be recommended enough. I saw it—for a second time—on Saturday night, and there were less than a dozen people in the theater.
Allow me to grab you by the collar and shake you until you agree to go. You really won’t believe it.