NORTH CAROLINA (WGHP) — When Mark Rabil became a lawyer, he didn’t think he’d spend most of his career dealing with cases that were already decided.
Then he was introduced to Darryl Hunt’s case.
Hunt was accused of rape and murder in 1984 when he was 19-years-old. Hunt spent nearly 20 years in prison for the crimes he did not commit. Rabil helped get Hunt exonerated. A few years later, he started the Innocence and Justice Clinic at Wake Forest University to work on cases similar to Hunt’s.
The Clinic is made up of second-and-third-year law students at Wake Forest who comb through hundreds of cases to find those that are wrongfully convicted. This isn’t about getting someone off on a technicality — this is about someone who never committed a crime going to prison.
Rabil says it happens far more than you’d think.
“What I see is built-in systemic racism,” said Rabil about the fact that roughly half of all wrongful convictions are of African-Americans. “I see built-in biases of all sorts. Whether it’s against intellectually disabled people or people of different race or ethnicity, I see a presumption of guilt as opposed to the constitutional presumption of innocence. I see exaggerated or improper science … A lot of people find it hard to believe a lot of false confessions, and you’re generally going to see that with kids, young people and intellectually disabled people.”
Kelvin Alexander knows all about that. He was sent to prison when he was 20 for a crime that he didn’t commit and spent the next 28 years there before Rabil’s clinic was able to get him released three years ago.
“They had … a so-called witness that said she was at the scene at the time of the crime,” Alexander said. “She said I was 5’6”, 160 pounds. At the time I was 6’3”, 170 pounds, so her identification was clearly off.”
But that wasn’t all.
“The evidence didn’t match me. No footprint. No fingerprint. No hair samples,” Alexander said. “It was just a big mess … She gave four different statements. None of them matched, and the one she eventually stood by … It was three other people there at the same time with the same statements, and they said they didn’t know each other, but they said she wasn’t there. She was lying.”
The stress of wrongful incarceration takes a toll that most people will never understand. Rabil certainly saw it with Hunt.
“Darryll had a stroke pretty soon after he got out. He was a young man … He was … barely … 40 years old. So he had a stroke within a couple of years,” Rabil said. “If you’re in prison … you’re hyper alert 24/7 because you don’t want to get stabbed in the back. It’s just a very, very frustrating, controlled, smelly, unhealthy, hopeless, dark, dank environment.”
That’s how the system gets its sentence even if a conviction is overturned.
“It never ends, the psychological impact of wrongful conviction,” Rabil said.