This Man Spent 30 Years On Death Row For A Crime He Didn’t Commit

False ID, a racially biased prosecutor and a constitutionally deficient lawyer sent Anthony Ray Hinton, to Alabama’s death row in 1985.

This Man Spent 30 Years On Death Row For A Crime He Didn’t Commit

False ID, a racially biased prosecutor and a constitutionally deficient lawyer sent Anthony Ray Hinton, to Alabama’s death row in 1985.

Thirty years later, he has become the 152nd person in the United States since 1983 to be exonerated after having been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death over the murder of two fast food restaurant managers during a robbery.

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.Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested for after a survivor of a third restaurant robbery picked a photo of him, then age 29, from a police lineup.

He was cutting the grass at his home, two Birmingham detectives showed up and arrested him. With no idea of why he was being arrested, the detectives asked Hinton if he or his mother owned a firearm. He told them his mother owned a firearm, which they later retrieved from his home.Hinton repeatedly asked police why he was being arrested. Eventually he was informed that he was being charged with first-degree robbery, kidnapping, and attempted murder of a third restaurant manager who had survived and identified Hinton from a photo. He maintained his innocence, telling the detectives that he was at work during the time the incident took place. His supervisor confirmed this fact, providing an alibi.

Anthony Ray Hinton This Man Spent 30 Years On Death Row For A Crime He Didn’t Commit

Anthony Hinton, 29 years old with no history of violent crime, steadfastly maintained his innocence. A polygraph test given by police exonerated him, but the judge (now-retired Circuit Judge James Garrett) refused to admit it at trial.

Hinton was assigned a public defender who had no faith in his innocence and who hired a visually-impaired civil engineer with no expertise in firearms identification who admitted he could not operate the machinery necessary to examine the evidence, the credibility of his ballistics expert was torn apart by the prosecutor. 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.Fifty-four inmates were executed while he was 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 attorneys engaged three of the nation’s top firearms examiners who testified in 2002 that the revolver could not be matched to crime evidence. State prosecutors never questioned the new findings but nonetheless refused to re-examine the case or concede error.

After 12 more years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower courts, and a new trial was granted. The judge finally dismissed the charges after prosecutors said that scientists at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences tested the evidence and confirmed that the crime bullets cannot be matched to the Hinton weapon.

This Man Spent 30 Years On Death Row For A Crime He Didn’t Commit

On April 3, 2015, Hinton was released from prison after Laura Petro, Jefferson County Circuit judge, overturned his conviction and the state dropped all charges against him.

When Anthony Ray Hinton walked out of an Alabama lockup after spending nearly 30 years on Death Row for a crime he did not commit, a guard told him: “You’ll be back.’’

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.

“Who would you be if they came for you? What would you do if you were charged with a crime you didn’t commit? What would you do if you didn’t have the money to hire a decent attorney? What would you do if you passed a polygraph test, but they cared more about the color of your skin than the merits of the case? What would you do if you were found guilty and sentenced to die? Who would you be? What would you do if you had to spend every day in a cell the size of your bathroom? What would you do after 30 long years, waiting to die, and you were finally set free? Who would you be?

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.

Hinton has met President Obama and Queen Elizabeth. He attended Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. He also visited Oprah Winfrey, who’s looking at making a movie about his 2018 book, “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row.” The book, which was on the New York Times best seller list in June 2018 and on Oprah’s Summer Book Club list, was nominated for a 2019 NAACP Image Award.

Since Hinton’s release, he said the state of Alabama has not apologized. But during a recent visit to City Hall in Birmingham, Mayor Randall Woodfin embraced Hinton and apologized for what Hinton experienced.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.


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