Judge Daniel Kuehnert

This file photo shows Judge Daniel Kuehnert during a Feb. 2017 murder trial. Kuehnert was named in a civil rights compliant this year by an inmate who was convicted of second-degree murder.

A man convicted of murder in Caldwell County filed a civil rights complaint against his former attorney Joseph Delk IV and Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Kuehnert in federal court in July.

David F. Hurt, 53, pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Howard Nelson Cook in Caldwell County in 2002. Cook had at least 12 stab wounds, blunt force trauma, cuts and scrapes when he was found dead in his home on Feb. 26, 1999, according to a 2018 article from the Lenoir News-Topic.

William Parlier, Cook's nephew, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the case and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Hurt, who is scheduled for release from prison in 2022, now says his right to due process under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was violated.

Hurt is asking for post-conviction discovery so he can prove touch DNA evidence in his case was falsified. He is also asking the court to award him an undetermined amount of compensation as well as punitive damages.

Hurt claims there’s a possibility the DNA evidence used to persuade him to plead guilty to second-degree murder may be inaccurate due to credibility issues within the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.

While in prison, Hurt learned of the Swecker Report. Published in 2010, the report revealed the findings of an independent review which found errors in policy within the state crime lab. Those errors led to evidence being withheld or misrepresented in 230 cases from 1987 to 2003.

Three of the agents that worked on Hurt’s case were mentioned in the report.

In a transcript from a March 2018 hearing, Kuehnert read portions of Hurt’s affidavit which says Hurt would have never entered a guilty plea had he known the information in the Swecker report.

“My attorneys convinced me that the DNA evidence on the cigarette butt and the DNA evidence on my clothing would have certainly resulted in a guilty verdict by a jury,” the affidavit reads.

Issues with the attorney

Once Hurt learned of the Swecker report, attorney Delk was appointed to represent Hurt and filed a motion for appropriate relief on Hurt’s behalf in 2017.

A hearing in relation to the motion took place in March 2018.

Hurt, in a complaint for violation of civil rights, claims Delk did not properly represent him in court, therefore denying him his right to due process.

The complaint also names Kuehnert in an official capacity.

“Mr. Delk failed to even obtain a copy of my discovery, which my whole case relied on after Judge Kuehnert ordered him to investigate factual and legal issues in my case,” Hurt wrote in the civil rights complaint.

In the transcript for the March 2018 hearing, Delk does say in open court that he could not gain access to the discovery, or evidence, in Hurt’s case without being granted an evidentiary hearing.

Hurt claims Delk could have had access to discovery in his case if he had filed the proper motions.

The Hickory Daily Record reached out to Delk on Monday. Delk was unaware the civil rights complaint had been filed, therefore, he did not comment.

The Decision

After hearing from Delk as to why Hurt’s motion for appropriate relief should be granted, Assistant District Attorney W. Andrew Jennings argued Hurt admitted to committing the crime during a resentencing hearing in 2008.

During that hearing, Hurt did say a cigarette butt found on the scene belonged to him. He also admitted blood was found on his clothing and that he was present before, during and after the murder. However, it was determined Parlier was primarily responsible for Cook’s murder.

According to court documents, Hurt drove Parlier to the scene, was present during the murder, and drove Parlier away from the scene and helped him dispose of evidence.

“Now my point is, if he gets what he wants, he may be going to prison for the rest of his life, because his own confession is evidence … So, you know, in a certain sense, it could be the best thing for the state,” Jennings said during the March 2018 hearing. “We can set this whole thing aside, and I’ll put him in prison for the rest of his life instead of three or four more years.

“Now, why do I not want to do that? Because you never know what’s going to happen. In another sense, this case is over.”

Kuehnert denied Hurt’s motion for appropriate relief due to several factors.

Kuehnert found that there isn’t any evidence indicating any of the SBI agents involved in the case falsified anything or purposefully or otherwise misled the court on any of their work.

He also found that it does not appear that a different result would likely be reached at trial if Hurt was granted a new one.

The HDR reached out to Kuehnert on Monday. He did not issue a comment by press time.

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