It’s been 15 years since I let go of brushing off unusual occurrences or good fortune as coincidence and instead came to believe things happen for a reason.
All it took was the collision of a marital crisis and the bit role I played as a journalist in helping bring about freedom for Darryl Hunt, a man falsely imprisoned for more than 18 years for murder.
In 2003, I was metro editor of the Winston-Salem Journal for less than a year when a minor court hearing popped up about Hunt. It was my first exposure to the case, and when I questioned the reporter writing it because I didn’t understand some aspects, he referred me to the newspaper’s “library.” That afternoon, coincidentally, I had time and spent hours pouring through seven folders worth of material.
- Coincidentally, I had written a lengthy investigative story for my former newspaper in Connecticut (533 van de velde) of a man falsely accused (though never arrested, much less imprisoned) of murder.
- Coincidentally, the executive editor of the Journal at the time had been hoping for years that someone would champion a new look at Hunt’s case.
- Coincidentally, the reporter, Phoebe Zerwick, who wound up being assigned to write what became an eight-part narrative series had been my classmate at Columbia University 17 years earlier and we had a great rapport for working together.
- Coincidentally, one of the readers of Day One of the series was the mother of a woman who had been similarly victimized (but who had managed to escape her attacker) six months after Hunt had been arrested.
- Coincidentally, we had time to include that shocking news in Day Eight of our series.
- Coincidentally, a judge read the stories and ordered the state lab, which had been sitting on a court order to study new potential DNA matches, to get cracking.
- Coincidentally, a potential match was made to a new suspect, the same guy the reader who called in had told us about, and that guy made a spontaneous confession that he had done it, alone.
In a matter of weeks, Darryl Hunt was freed (Unfortunately, Darryl’s life was never easy, as Phoebe wrote after his 2016 death).
Coincidentally, I was in a marital crisis throughout the time of the Hunt series and aftermath, struggling to control an outcome I wanted. Seeing and understanding all of the quirks and details that had to go right to earn Hunt’s freedom (and I am only dealing with the coincidences from my point of view; Hunt himself, and his longtime attorney Mark Rabil had their own remarkable list of coincidences) provided new insight into my personal struggle.
The upshot was changing my reference point for life to understanding that things happen for a reason. And accepting that it is not for me to know why.
Put another way, in 2003 I accepted the concept of a higher power. I know that since doing so, navigating personal and professional issues has been easier. I certainly don’t believe that’s a coincidence.