Wrongfully imprisoned for decades, ex-inmate preaches a message of forgiveness

Drawing upon his experience of being wrongly imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit, Darryl Burton preached Sunday about hope and forgiveness to members of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.

“I had neither one,” said Burton, who is congregational care pastor for the church. “I struggled with hope because I was in a hopeless situation, and I really wasn’t a forgiving person.”

Burton told the congregation attending the 10:45 a.m. Sunday service that he was very angry and very upset for many years. But by following Jesus’ teachings, he learned how to forgive and love people he believed hated him, as well as people he hated.

Burton served 24 years in prison for the 1984 murder of a St. Louis man. He was released in 2008 after courts found his prosecution had been constitutionally flawed.

Burton graduated from seminary in May and is pursing his ordination in the United Methodist Church. He told his story in sermons on Saturday and Sunday.

“I was not always a believer — in fact I struggled with faith for many years,” he said. “I had gotten away from the church until I had this unfortunate experience of spending 2 1/2 decades in prison as an innocent man.”

Burton became a believer through that experience, and he said he is so grateful that he did.

Growing up, Burton lived with his grandmother, a religious person who required him to attend church up to a certain age. Burton recalled telling her that he wasn’t going to church anymore — that he didn’t understand God and that he didn’t believe in him.

Her words were prophetic, and something he never forgot.

“She said, ‘Boy, one of these days you’re going to need Jesus, and I hope you remember to call on him,’ ” Burton said.

After he was convicted, Burton said, he became an “equal opportunity hater,” hating all judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and witnesses for what a few people had done to him.

“I was stuck and locked in that hate for many, many years,” he said. “I couldn’t get beyond that.”

Someone encouraged him to read the Bible. It was the passages about loving, praying for and forgiving enemies that began his transformation.

“I didn’t believe in miracles, but then I became one,” Burton said about how his case turned around he was set free.

Robert A. Cronkleton: 816-234-4261, @cronkb