Winston-Salem, North Carolina (December 13, 2010) – In prison for more than 19 years for rape and murder that he did not commit, Darryl Hunt interviews with ICNA. This interview was conducted at the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, NC. Darryl Hunt spoke at the 1st Annual Social Justice banquet in Virginia on December 24, 2010 to raise funds for ICNA’s Council for Social Justice. For more information visit www.ICNAcsj.org
Considering the current climate, what should be the role of Muslims in the area of social justice?
By getting engaged and being active in all the organizations that are already out there, fighting the issues of immigration, the social justice issues of the criminal justice system, of how the system discriminates against all minorities, and fighting on that front and getting involved.
Tell us about your case and exoneration.
I was arrested in 1984 for the rape and murder of a white newspaper copy editor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I was arrested at age 19 and I served 19 ½ years in prison. I had two trials; the first trial was a jury of 11 whites and one black and the second trial was an all white jury. I was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, being one vote away from the death penalty. I spent 19 years in prison going from 13 different prisons in North Carolina.
In 1990, before my second trial, my attorneys asked, “Was there was any DNA involved?” “Were they able to collect the DNA?” They said the DNA was too degraded to be tested, which was a lie, because right in their files was a report from the FBI that they could do DNA testing, which was called PCR testing (which was a high grade of testing). It was three years later during an MAR hearing (a Motion for Appropriate Relief hearing) that by the grace of Allah my attorneys asked for one statement of another witness. The prosecutor didn’t want to turn it over (the statement from the FBI about the DNA was stuck to this statement) and the judge made him turn it over. And that’s how we were able to find out about the DNA. The testing was done in ’93, came back in ’94, and in August of ’94 it proved that it wasn’t me that committed the crime, but the judge ruled that DNA didn’t matter.
My case was appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court; the US Supreme Court upheld it, coming up with different scenarios why DNA didn’t matter, going so far as to say that I could have killed the person and someone could have come along after she was dead and raped her—to justify the DNA. It was only on Christmas Eve of 2003 that I was released on bail after they found the person who actually committed the crime. And in February of 2004 I was exonerated.
How did Muslims/Islam play a role in your struggle for social justice?
Muslims played a pivotal role because one—when I first went into prison, I mean when I was first arrested I wasn’t Muslim. I started learning about Islam and became Muslim but it was through my father-in-law (who is now my father-in-law, he wasn’t my father-in-law then) who first introduced me to Islam and helped me understand the basics of Islam. And that gave me the strength and determination to rely on Allah—to endure the 19 years.
What should be the role of ICSJ as a social justice organization?
To speak out against injustices. The Muslim community needs a voice for those who don’t have voices. In the climate that we’re in today, where Islam is being attacked from all sides, the justice system (that has never been fair to minorities—period) and continues to have all these flaws—Muslims need to be involved and need an organization that can speak for the Muslims.
To give you an example, one of the things in North Carolina that we voted [on] was the moratorium on the death penalty because we believe that you cannot give the death penalty to people when they don’t receive a fair and just trial. During this whole time, not only couldn’t I count the African Americans that were involved at the general assembly pushing this, but also the number Muslims who for one reason or another didn’t feel they had a voice to be there.
If we have a collective body, a voice that could speak out for those who can’t speak—because there are injustices being perpetrated against Muslims who are driving down the street with a kufi on, and being pulled over and questioned. Without an organization that can speak for them and can speak to the authorities about the injustice, we will continue to be victims.
You often hear people say that, “One person can’t make a difference.” Based on your case what response would you give those people?
If it were not for one person I wouldn’t be sitting here today because Allah blessed this one juror to not give me the death penalty, and if he would have given me the death penalty I wouldn’t be here. So one person does make a difference; Allah gives you power to do all things.
On the same note, tell us about Larry Little and his impact as one person on your case.
If it wasn’t for Larry continuing to keep [my case] before the community—Larry’s voice. We played basketball; that’s the only thing I knew about him—we played pickup basketball at the YMCA, and it was because of that pickup basketball that he knew what kind of character/person I was. He came and pulled in the community and people to know that I did not commit—the person that he knew and played basketball with—did not commit this crime. And it was because of that one voice that he carried that I’m here. I don’t think Allah blesses just one person. He blesses one person and he blesses others and he gives others the chance to fight.
You’ll be speaking at the ICSJ Banquet in Virginia. What advice can you give the community about involvement in causes such as ICSJ and The Darryl Hunt Project?
Want for your brother what you want for yourself. In a system that continues to heap injustice—our criminal justice system is supposed to be about blind justice, but when its based upon how much money you have or what class you come out of, then that’s not justice. All Muslims need to stand up and fight for that.