Lee Wayne Hunt died as a prisoner who was formally found guilty of double homicide – although a co-defendant had declared him unlawful in a conversation with a lawyer who had been secret for decades. Convicted in the case did not tell him for long the killings of a couple from Fayetteville in 1984 that Hunt was not involved. Hughes risked the dismissal when he told a judge in 2007 about the confession after the client Jerry Cashwell died.
"If you believe what my client has told me, I believe that Mr. Hunt did not do that then it will just be so dreadful and so sad," Hughes told The Associated Press.
Hunt, 59, died of heart problems on February 1
The AP received an indication that Hunt had died and is the only news organization to interview members of Hunt and Matthews' family since his death.  Hunt, Cashwell, and a third man were convicted in the deaths of Roland and Lisa Matthews, who were shot and stabbed in their Fayetteville apartment. Her two-year-old daughter was found in a bedroom, physically unhurt.
The prosecutors said the couple had been killed because Roland Matthews Hunt stole the marijuana that had a drug ring.
Crimes were a comparison of bullets that Hunt possessed in the hands of bullets found on the scene – a comparison method that the FBI abandoned in 2005 after being subjected to scientific criticism. Other evidence was testimony from an employee who had received immunity and from a prison informant.
That does not mean that Hunt did not have a criminal past.
In November 1985, Hunt was convicted of drug possession and other criminal charges. He was released in September 1986. Less than a month later, on October 17, 1986, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Hunt supporters were sure that there was no physical evidence, and Cashwell's Postum was released confession, eventually releasing him in the murder case.
But that did not happen. Judges have repeatedly decided against him. North Carolina's unique Innocence Inquiry Commission was unable to consider his case, as there was no new evidence, said Chris Mumma, executive director of the non-profit NC Center for Actual Innocence, who eventually treated Hunt.
However, Hunt believed right to the end that he would be relieved, his daughter said. "He never let go of hope," Allen said.
He said to her, "If they can not find out while I'm here, hopefully the truth will come out when I'm not here," she said. "… He always talked about the Lord and he always believed that things would one day light up."
67-year-old Hughes kept secret from Cashwell's confession of acquittal secrecy until Cashwell died in jail by suicide In 2002, Hughes signed an affidavit for Hunt's lawyers. When Hughes held a hearing for Hunt in 2007, the judge admonished him and reported him to the prosecutor, who refused to take action against him.
Last fall, Hughes visited Hunt for the first time in prison. They talked for more than two hours.
"He fully understood the situation I was in," Hughes said. "He did not show me any ill will."
On his recent telephone conversations with his daughter, Hunt shared his concerns about his health and the lack of care he believed he had behind bars, Allen said. When Allen received his personal belongings from prison officials, she found complaints about his medical care.
Correction Department spokesman John Bull said laws prohibit him from talking about a prisoner's medical record. He said he shared the concerns of the Hunt family with the doctors in the prison.
The victims' family is now sure of Hunt's guilt and relieved that he has finally disappeared.
Roland Matthews' sister, Paula Holland of Hope Mills, believes Hughes lied about Cashwell's confession. When asked what evidence convinced them of Hunt, Holland replied, "Because of who he is, because of what he was, because of his reputation."
Holland said her niece, Crystal Mayfield, was 22 months old when she was killed. She was found sitting on her bed with her dog.
And when a released ex-detainee in a public Facebook post commented that Hunt had died an innocent man, Mayfield responded, "I am very relieved that justice has finally been served. My family can now have some rest."  Mayfield did not respond to a Facebook message from the AP. Her relatives said she did not want to be interviewed.
It is not uncommon for prisoners with evidence of innocence to die in custody. In response to an e-mail request, lawyers across the country cited cases in several states where prisoners died with meaningful evidence, including DNA, to test their innocence.
At least 21 people were released posthumously, with about half died in jail According to the National Register of Exonerations.
Hunt, who learned to read and write in prison, was a woodcutter. He enjoyed reading about cabins and talking about the ones he would build when he was free, his family said. He used plastic knives and wood from pallets to carve animal figures, then dyed them with coffee grounds and decorated them with pastel pencils, Allen said.
The victims' family believes Allen is fortunate to have these memories.
"Lee Wayne Hunt was very lucky," said Holland. "His family could go to jail and visit him, the only joy we had was putting flowers on my brother's grave, I hate it for them, but I hate it for ourselves … we have not … we just had to wait and wait for our time. "
Hunt's followers believe that time did not do him any good.
"Everything I knew about this case makes me think he did not," Hughes said. "And that's pretty awful, I was hoping that would be different, and it did not, it just turned out to be overwhelmingly sad."
Allen G. Breed, Associated Press, contributed to this story.
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