Anthony Ray Hinton, a 58-year-old Alabama inmate that spent 30 years on the death row, was finally allowed to walk free Friday. New evidence brought in his case showed that he couldn’t have possibly been responsible for the two murders he was convicted.
But during those 30 years, Mr. Hinton’s mother died, his children grew up, his hair tuned gray, while several inmates he knew were put to death on the electric chair or by lethal injection.
The new evidence that granted him exoneration was a modern-day ballistic test that contradicted the only evidence taken from the crime scene in the 1980s.
After being released Mr. Hinton told reporters that investigators should have performed the test earlier. He also bitterly noticed that the U.S. justice system had every intention of executing him for something he didn’t commit.
On Good Friday morning, Hinton was embraced by his family and friends outside the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Alabama. His sisters were hugging him in tears and saying “Thank you, Jesus.”
Bryan Stevenson, the head and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based non-profit organization that represents possibly innocent prisoners, poor inmates, and those denied a fair trial, has been battling the justice system for nearly 16 years to prove Mr. Hinton’s innocence. Mr. Stevenson noted that all in all the case was one of the most tragic, although the day of reunion was joyous.
“Not only did he lose his life, he lived a life in solitary confinement on death row, condemned in a 5-by-8 cell where the state was trying to kill him every day,”
Mr. Stevenson added.
Mr. Hinton was convicted in 1985 for killing two fast-food-restaurant employees during two separate armed robberies. Mr. Hinton caught investigator’s attention after a survivor of the robberies picked his photo out of a photo lineup.
He was soon convicted based on the bullets found at the crime-scenes that reportedly matched a 38-caliber gun belonging to the man’s mother. There was no other evidence such as other an eye witness testimony or fingerprints.
During an appeal, another ballistic test revealed that the bullets didn’t match Mr. Hinton’s revolver. After that point, Mr. Stevenson tried without success to persuade investigators to re-examine the case.
Last year, Mr. Hinton was granted another chance after winning a trial at the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled his counsel “constitutionally deficient.”
Additionally, his lawyer thought that Mr. Hinton had only $1,000 to hire a ballistics expert. So, the only man who offered to take the job, a civil engineer with little ballistics knowledge, struggled so much under cross-examination that the Jefferson County district attorney decided to close case since prosecutors couldn’t bring enough evidence either.
Bryan Stevenson said that Mr. Hinton’s race and low social status put him into this position and even made things worse. Mr. Stevenson also criticized the system because it failed to do the right thing although the right thing was obvious. He also described Mr. Hinton’s unfortunate case a “case study” that pinpoints all the flaws and weaknesses of the American justice system.
Mr. Hinton said Friday that he will pray for other wrongfully convicted death row inmates as he has done over the past 30 years. He also said that those involved in his conviction that thought they were above the law and had to answer to nobody, would have to answer to God.
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