cover image Beyond Innocence: The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt

Beyond Innocence: The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt

Phoebe Zerwick. Atlantic Monthly, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5937-3

Journalist Zerwick debuts with a moving account of a North Carolina man’s wrongful conviction and incarceration, eventual exoneration, and lingering postprison trauma. In 1984, newspaper editor Deborah Sykes, a white woman, was raped and murdered on her way to work at the Winston-Salem Sentinel. After an investigation that hit several dead ends, police charged a 19-year-old Black man, Darryl Hunt, with the crime based on tenuous evidence, including the testimony of a teenage prostitute who later recanted and witness identification by a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Though the only witness to the actual attack failed a polygraph and Hunt’s blood type didn’t match samples taken from the crime scene, the nearly all-white jury convicted him. Documenting an appeals process that dragged on for 19 years, Zerwick draws on excerpts from Hunt’s letters and diaries, and profiles activists, clergymen, and lawyers who advocated for his release, which happened in 2004, after DNA evidence implicated a man whom police had discounted as a suspect at the time of the investigation. Amid his own struggles to adjust to life after prison, Hunt began a project to help others with reentry into society, but the work may have exacerbated his own mental health struggles, according to Zerwick, and he committed suicide in 2016 at age 51. Richly detailed and lucidly written, this is a harrowing story of racial injustice and the lingering traumas of wrongful imprisonment. (Mar.) Religion