Dark, scowling, perpetually angry; Derrick Allen is the Sonny Liston of wrongly convicted men in North Carolina. 

Like Liston, the heavyweight boxing champion who lost a storied 1964 title bout to Muhammad Ali, Allen’s fight for justice has received a begrudging recognition.

And although his 54-year sentence—of which he served 13 years after he was convicted for raping and murdering a two-year-old girl—was vacated by Durham judge Orlando Hudson in 2009, Allen, like Liston, is still viewed with suspicion by the authorities.

As the INDY previously reported, although Allen is a free man, he is still imprisoned by his past.

Nearly 15 years have gone by since his release and Allen has not received a pardon of innocence from Governor Roy Cooper that would make him eligible for financial compensation. 

Officials with Cooper’s office say only that Allen’s petition is still pending.

Allen recently pinned his hopes on what appeared to be a potential loophole in a 2012 law that might have granted him financial compensation without a pardon from the governor.

That hope vanished when Duke law professor Jamie Lau with the school’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic said Allen was not eligible because Judge Hudson’s decision to vacate his sentence preempted a potential declaration of innocence from the state’s Innocence Commission.

“The law in question does not make Mr. Allen eligible for compensation,” Lau stated in an email. “In order to avail oneself of the law, you must have your charges dismissed after a declaration of innocence by the three-judge panel. Mr. Allen’s charges were dismissed by prosecutors in Durham County, not as a result of a decision by a three-judge panel, so he is not eligible for compensation.”

Catherine Matoian, an associate director of investigation with the innocence inquiry commission, stated in an email to the INDY that, based on state law, “the Commission is unable to consider Mr. Allen’s case.”

Because Mr. Allen’s charges were dismissed, there is no conviction the Commission would be able to investigate,” Matoian added.

The state of North Carolina freed Allen, but gave him little else to successfully reenter society. 

“They wrote me a check for no more than a $100 that was in my account,” Allen says. “That was basically it.”

Allen stewed in jail for 15 months after his sentence was vacated. Hudson let him out on an unsecured bond.

Allen says he attended mental health sessions with a psychologist at Duke that his attorney recommended.

“The state of North Carolina didn’t have anything to do with it,” Allen says.

Nor did the state provide job training and placement.


Allen says the state gave him, “absolutely nothing.”

Allen thinks the state’s failure to provide him with basic resources left him without the means to establish meaningful relationships.

“No one wants to be around a person who is needy,” he says. “No one wants to be around a person who does not have anything.”

Allen, 44, does not have a relationship with his 11-year-old son. He says he’s behind in child support and that his son’s mother won’t see him. He says prison has changed him in ways others can’t understand and that he finds it hard to build trust with women.

“I ain’t got no female friends,” he explains. “What female wants to be friends with a man accused of rape?”

Allen does not have a job, or a safe, stable, secure home. He sells soaps and colognes out of the trunk of the car where he lives and sleeps. He can’t make a dime right now. His car is broken down. He doesn’t have the $400 for repairs.

“I need rotors and brakes,” he says. “The battery is dead.”

For nearly three years, Allen has needed a root canal. The six or seven dentist offices he’s visited have all refused to treat him due to issues with his insurance.

One often hears about wrongly convicted people who publicly express no remorse or bitterness after spending decades in prison.

That’s not Allen, not by a longshot. 

“I’m bitter as hell,” he says. “How do you experience employment discrimination, housing discrimination, how do you experience these discriminations and not feel bitter? The American Dream is to have a house, a job, and enjoy the luxury of being an ordinary American citizen. I’m a citizen…it’s [made me] bitter.”

Prior to going to prison, Allen dreamed of becoming a lawyer. He attends Guilford Technical Community College. He wants to earn a paralegal degree.

Sometimes, Allen thinks about Darryl Hunt, another wrongly convicted man, who like him, was only 19 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, a newspaper copy editor in Winston-Salem. 

In 2004, Hunt was exonerated and released from prison.

In 2007 he settled a lawsuit with the city of Winston-Salem and was awarded one million dollars. 

In 2016, Darryl Hunt died by suicide inside of a locked vehicle stopped at a shopping center parking lot.

“I don’t want to die like Darryl Hunt, asleep in his car,” Allen says. 

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com

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