There is a calm and gentle spirit about Darryl Burton. He is both self-assured and reassuring, confident and unassuming. He wears the smile of a man who is steadfast in his faith, and the gleam in his eyes hints of an awe-inspiring future. He tells a story so awesome its weight is too heavy for him not to share with the world.
In 1984, Darryl became a victim of a flawed legal system for no other reason than simply being. Following a murder at a St. Louis gas station near his childhood home, Darryl was named the prime suspect based solely on the word of questionable witnesses. Even though the offender’s description would paint a picture that looked nothing like Darryl, and even though there was no physical evidence to connect him to the crime, he was surprisingly arrested.
Secure in knowing that he was innocent, Darryl was appointed a public defender. Unfortunately, this legal structure continued to not work in his favor and, after only a one-hour visit with his public defender, Darryl went to trial. Following the three-day trial, he received a guilty verdict. Because he was innocent, he was unprepared for the range of emotions that flooded his existence: shock, anger, disbelief, bitterness. These were the sentiments he carried with him as he entered the Missouri State Penitentiary, and welcoming him was a banner that did little to quell his disdain. It read: “Welcome to the Missouri State Penitentiary. Leave all your hope, family and dreams behind.”
This ominous message could have easily defined Darryl’s time while incarcerated, and for a time it did, but he refused to allow bitterness to become his second prison. Armed with the biblical verse Luke 23:34 “God, forgive them for they know not what they do,” he took action and began penning letters to anyone he thought might be able to help him out of this tightly wound bind. He even wrote a letter to Jesus, promising to spread his undying love to the world if total vindication and exoneration ever came to fruition.
Then, in 1990 after watching an episode of “60 Minutes” about Centurion, the first organization in the world dedicated to the vindication of the wrongly convicted, Darryl had a renewed sense of promise. He immediately wrote to them, and they responded, stating that they were a small organization that could only take on two cases a year. He was willing to wait.
Darryl filled his penitentiary time as a man on a mission and began walking by example. Motivated by the words of his grandmother who once told him that one day he was going to need Jesus and that she hoped he’d remember to call on Him, he did just that. He prayed through clenched teeth to forgive those who had wronged him, obtained a Bible equipped with the words of Jesus written in red, and took solace in believing that God knew of his innocence.
It took 10 years, but in 2000, Centurion came to visit and agreed to take on his case. With the help of Centurion pioneer Jim McCloskey and Cheryl Pilate, in 2008, Darryl was able to leave his 6-by-12-foot home behind. He remembers his release day as almost a supernatural experience, and it was not until he reached the last two doors to freedom that he began uncontrollably chanting, “Praise God, Praise God.” Finally, it had become time to demonstrate to the world that he was a man of his word.
Although the wheels of justice rolled very slowly, Darryl has wasted no time regaining his life. He was determined to make sure others could experience God’s grace and is living out this mission. He entered St. Paul’s Theological Seminary, graduated in 2016 and is now a pastor at Church of the Resurrection. He has founded Miracle of Innocence, a sister program of Centurion, whose goal is to free the innocent. It seems the three distinct crosses naturally etched in the palm of Darryl’s hand are perhaps there by design. Darryl is sure it is God’s way of constantly letting him know he is walking with and talking with him.
“I’m exonerated but not liberated until they are all set free,” Darryl says. “I’m just doing God’s work and doing His will. I’m called to serve others, and I cannot exist without the service of others. I did not believe in miracles until I became one. That’s what the world needs to know.”