Innocent man talks of jail time

Published 11:48 am Wednesday, October 1, 2008

PROCTORVILLE — It was the simple faith of a teacher in her student that is as much a part of the story of Darryl Hunt as the miscarriage of justice the young man suffered.

JoAnn Goetz was the sixth grade teacher of Hunt, when both were in Winston-Salem, N.C. In 1975 Goetz opened up her newspaper to see Hunt’s photo accused of the brutal murder of journalist, Deborah Sykes, stabbed 14 times.

The crime was chilling, but not for a single moment did Goetz believe her former student guilty.

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“When his picture was in the newspaper, the first person I called was the district attorney. He was an acquaintance of mine,” Goetz said in a phone interview from her North Carolina home.

The purpose of her conversation was simple.

“I had taught Darryl. He was not capable of the crime,” she told the district attorney.

That began a tumultuous period in the lives of both teacher and student that went from a wrongful conviction for Hunt to his exoneration through DNA testing after almost 20 years in prison.

That story is the basis of “Long Time Coming, My Life and the Darryl Hunt Lesson,” the book Goetz wrote.

That is now the basis of a school-wide read for the students at Fairland High School, in anticipation of both author and Hunt coming on Oct. 7 to Fairland for the day.

One of the inspirations for the read is Evelyn Capper, librarian at the high school who met Goetz a year ago.

“She believed in him, his character,” Capper said. “She knew when she saw his picture in the paper.”

Educators will take the book and use it as a starting point for a variety of learning opportunities for the students, Capper says.

Science teachers will use it for a DNA study.

“Social studies teachers will look at the two decades of his life that he missed,” she said. “Government teachers will talk about wrongful convictions. We have a lot of objectives. We obviously want to make sure all the students read and help them make the connection between real life stories and their life.”

On Tuesday, Hunt and Goetz will meet with the English classes for a question and answer period.

In the afternoon Fairland will be part of a video conference with 15 schools in Ohio with Hunt and Goetz.

In the evening from 7 to 8 the community is invited to a reception for the pair at Ohio University Proctorville Center.

“Darryl speaks on forgiveness, not dropping out of school and choosing your friends,” Goetz said. “When you hear him speak, he is so kind-hearted and so genuine and speaks from the heart.”