Man wrongly convicted
December 4, 2004
N.C. man to plead guilty in murder case that jailed wrong man for 18 years
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) – A man will plead guilty to killing a woman in 1984, a crime that wrongly sent another man to prison for 18 years, his attorney said.
Willard E. Brown, 44, will plead guilty to the murder, rape and kidnapping of Deborah Sykes in exchange for one life sentence. The plea agreement, announced Friday by public defender Pete Clary, allows Brown to avoid the possibility of a death sentence.
Brown will also plead guilty to a robbery charge and receive a sentence of 10 years, to be served in addition to the life sentence.
A 10-year-old state law abolished parole in such murder cases. But Brown will be eligible for parole under sentencing laws in place at the time of Sykes’ murder. Under those guidelines, he faces a minimum of 21 years and three months in prison.
Darryl Hunt spent 18 years in prison for killing Sykes, a newspaper copy editor in Winston-Salem. He was exonerated in February after DNA testing linked Brown to the crime, and police said Brown admitted committing the crimes and acting alone.