FREE AT LAST: INNOCENT MAN SERVED 30 YEARS ON DEATH ROW
In honor of Black History Month, WVUA 23 is shining a light on several outstanding West Alabamians.
After 30 years behind bars and on death row for a crime he didn’t commit, Anthony Ray Hinton is finally walking free.
Hinton grew up in Praco, which is a coal mining town in Jefferson County. What he remembers most is spending time with his mother, he said, recalling how she scolded him for putting off his chores.
“She gave me that look only my momma could give me, and I knew exactly what she was telling me,” Hinton said. ” ‘Boy you better get out there and cut that grass.’ ”
It was that same day, after Hinton finally started mowing the lawn, that his life would change forever. He said he recalled two detectives from the Birmingham Police Department coming to tell him they had a warrant for his arrest.
“He said I have good news and bad news,” Hinton said.
The good news? They weren’t going to charge him with first-degree robbery, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree attempted murder.
The bad news? Hinton was facing two counts of capital murder.
During Hinton’s 1986 trial, the case centered around two bullets the state falsely claimed matched a gun found at his mother’s home. Hinton passed a polygraph test, but that test was not allowed as evidence.
It took the jury an hour to convict Hinton, who was found guilty and sentenced to death.
“I went to bed for 30 years with a death sentence over my head,” Hinton said. “Woke up every morning with a death sentence still over my head. I watched 54 men pass my cell and go to the death chamber.”
Hinton said he sat in silence for his first three years on death row, angry at God for this test of faith. But he found a ray of hope the day he met Bryan Stevenson.
It took Stevenson and his team at the Equal Justice Initiative 16 years to prove Hinton’s innocence. His case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the judges ruled Hinton was entitled to a new trial.
Hinton’s new trial ended in the dismissal of his charges, and he walked out of the Jefferson County Jail a free man on April 3, 2015. It was Good Friday.
“I felt relieved and happy,” he said. “And I was smiling from ear to ear and one point, and sad at another point because my mother had passed and she was not there to see me walk out of prison.”
Hinton was one of the longest-serving death row prisoners in Alabama history. He never received an apology from the state of Alabama.
Now, Hinton works at the Equal Justice Initiative. He’s also written a book, “The Sun Does Shine How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row.” His wrongful conviction was also featured in the movie “Just Mercy.”
Hinton was one the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history. Hinton tells us he is bothered by the fact that he has not received an apology from the state of Alabama. He currently works at the Equal Justice Initiative and he has written a book titled “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row.” His wrongful conviction is also featured in the movie “Just Mercy.”