Anthony Ray Hinton
Anthony Ray Hinton
2018 reading at Politics and Prose, Washington, DC
|Born||June 1, 1956|
Anthony Ray Hinton (born June 1, 1956) is a man from Alabama who was wrongly convicted of the 1985 murders of two fast food restaurant managers in Birmingham, sentenced to death, and held on the state's death row for 28 years.
In 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously overturned his conviction on appeal, and the state dropped all charges against him. It was unable to affirm the forensic evidence of a gun, which was the only evidence in the first trial.
After being released, Hinton wrote and published a memoir The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (2018).
On 25 February and 2 July 1985, two fast food managers, John Davidson and Thomas Wayne Vasona, were killed in separate incidents during armed robberies at their restaurants in Birmingham. A survivor of a third restaurant robbery picked a photo of Anthony Ray Hinton, then age 29, from a lineup, and the police investigated him. He worked at a supermarket warehouse and lived with his mother Buhlar Hinton at her home in rural Alabama, about a half hour north of Birmingham.
Arrest, prosecution and conviction
After Hinton's arrest, his public defense attorney did not provide adequate counsel. He said to Hinton, "All of y'all Blacks always say you didn’t do something." and "Y'all Blacks always sticking up for each other." The credibility of his ballistics expert, who was the only one the attorney thought he could hire with funds available, was torn apart by the prosecutor because of physical limitations and lack of experience. The jury disregarded the testimony of Hinton's boss, who testified that he was at work at the time of the alleged crimes.
The prosecution's only evidence at the trial was a statement that ballistics tests showed four crime scene bullets matched Hinton's mother's gun, which was discovered at her house during the investigation. No fingerprints or eyewitness testimony were introduced. Hinton was convicted of each of the two murders and sentenced to death.
He was sent to death row, which meant that he was held in solitary confinement for nearly three decades. During his decades in prison, he was supported by his mother's unwavering faith in his innocence, as well as that of a longtime friend, Lester Bailey, who visited him monthly. His mother died in 2002.
While on death row, Hinton began to read a lot. He eventually organized a book club that was allowed to meet in the prison's law library. Among the authors whom the prisoners read and discussed were James Baldwin and Harper Lee. Finally Hinton was the last prisoner left on death row.
Hinton's initial appeals continued to be handled by his public defender, who lost each case. After Hinton had been on death row about a decade, the Equal Justice Initiative (a non-profit based in Montgomery, Alabama), picked up his case, handling his defense for 16 years. During the appeals, EJI introduced evidence from three forensics experts, including one from the FBI, showing that the bullets from the crime scenes did not match Hinton's mother's gun. But the state court of Alabama refused to overturn his convictions or grant a new trial.
Exoneration, release and aftermath
Responding to an appeal that reached the US Supreme Court in 2014, the Court ruled that Hinton's original defense lawyer was "constitutionally deficient", and remanded his case to the lower court for retrial. Hinton's defense lawyer had wrongly thought he had only $1,000 available to hire a ballistics expert to rebut the state’s case on evidence. The only expert willing to testify at that price was a civil engineer with little ballistics training and limited by having one eye; he admitted in court to having trouble in operating the microscope.
After the Supreme Court ruling, on April 1, 2015 the Jefferson County district attorney’s office moved to drop the case. Their forensics experts were unable to match crime-scene bullets to Hinton's mother's gun. Prosecutors admitted that they could not match four bullets found at the crime scene with Hinton's gun, and that this was the only evidence offered in the original murder trial.
Hinton is the 152nd person since 1973 to be exonerated from death row in the United States, and the sixth in the state of Alabama. He said, “Everybody that played a part in sending me to death row, you will answer to God.” Hinton filed a claim for nearly $1.5 million in compensation for his time in jail due to wrongful conviction. The legislature has resisted approval of this payment, as state authorities say that he did not prove his innocence.
Since his release, Hinton has spoken in various venues about the injustices of the Alabama judicial system and other issues related to his conviction and imprisonment. He completed a memoir entitled The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (2018), and has given readings and talks about the book and his experiences around the country.
- Capital punishment in the United States
- List of exonerated death row inmates
- List of wrongful convictions in the United States
- Associated Press (4 April 2015). "Alabama man off death row after 28 years to jailers: You will answer to God". theguardian.com. The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
- McGreal, Chris (1 April 2018). "'I went to death row for 28 years through no fault of my own'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-01.
- Abby Phillip, "Alabama inmate free after three decades on death row. How the case against him unraveled", The Washington Post, 3 April 2015 (page visited on 9 April 2015).
- Daniella Silva. "Anthony Ray Hinton, Alabama Man Who Spent 30 Years on Death Row, Has Case Dismissed". NBC News. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
- "Alabama death row inmate freed after 30 years". BBC. 3 April 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
- Anthony Ray Hinton, "I spent 28 years on death row ", The Guardian, 21 October 2016 (page visited on 1 April 2018).
- "Alabama man off death row after 28 years to jailers: You will answer to God". theguardian.com. The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
- "They Couldn’t Take My Soul": Anthony Ray Hinton on His Exoneration After 30 Years on Death Row, Democracy Now! (2015)
- Chotiner, Isaac (22 March 2018). "How to Survive Death Row: Anthony Ray Hinton served 30 years in prison for murders he didn't commit. Somehow, he's not enraged". Slate.
- Interview with Megyn Kelly, Today show
- Ray Hinton, The Sun Does Shine, Macmillan Company