Sun, Apr 05, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Death row inmate freed after 30 years

‘THANK YOU JESUS’:Anthony Ray Hinton said that everybody who played a part in sending him to death row ‘will answer to God,’ adding that he was innocent

AP, BIRMINGHAM, Alabama

Former death row inmate Anthony Ray Hinton is greeted by relatives outside the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Alabama, on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

A man who spent nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row walked free two days after prosecutors said that the only evidence they had against him could not prove he committed the crime.

Anthony Ray Hinton was 29 years old when he was arrested for two murders in 1985. Freed on Friday aged 58, with gray hair and a beard, he was embraced by his sobbing sisters, who said: “Thank you Jesus,” as they wrapped their arms around him outside the Jefferson County Jail.

Hinton won a new trial last year after the US Supreme Court ruled that his trial counsel was inadequate. Prosecutors on Wednesday moved to drop the case after new ballistics tests contradicted those done three decades ago. Experts could not match crime-scene bullets to a gun found in Hinton’s home.

“I shouldn’t have sat on death row for 30 years. All they had to do was test the gun,” Hinton said.

The state of Alabama offered no immediate apology.

“When you think you are high and mighty and you are above the law, you don’t have to answer to nobody, but I got news for them, everybody who played a part in sending me to death row, you will answer to God,” Hinton said. “They just didn’t take me from my family and friends. They had every intention of executing me for something I didn’t do,” Hinton said.

ALIBI

Hinton was arrested in 1985 for the murders of two Birmingham fast-food restaurant managers after the survivor of a third restaurant robbery identified Hinton as the gunman. Prosecution experts said at the trial that bullets recovered at all three crime scenes matched Hinton’s mother’s .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. He was convicted despite an alibi: He had been at work inside a locked warehouse 15 minutes away during the third shooting.

“The only thing we’ve ever had to connect him to the two crimes here in Birmingham was the bullets matching the gun that was recovered from his home,” Chief Deputy District Attorney John Bowers said on Thursday.

The US Supreme Court ruled last year that Hinton had “constitutionally deficient” representation at trial because his defense lawyer wrongly thought he had only US$1,000 to hire a ballistics expert to rebut the state’s case. The only expert willing to take the job at that price struggled so much under cross-examination that jurors chuckled at his responses.

Attorney Bryan Stevenson, who directs Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative, called it “a case study” in what is wrong with the US judicial system. He said the trial was tainted by racial bias and that Hinton, an impoverished African-American man, did not have access to a better defense.

“We have a system that doesn’t do the right thing when the right thing is apparent. Prosecutors should have done these tests years ago,” Stevenson said.

The independent experts Stevenson hired to re-examine this evidence after taking on Hinton’s case in 1999 “were quite unequivocal that this gun was not connected to these crimes,” he said.

“That’s the real shame to me. What happened this week to get Mr Hinton released could have happened at least 15 years ago,” he added.

Stevenson then tried in vain for years to persuade the state of Alabama to re-examine the evidence. The bullets only received a new look as prosecutors and defense lawyers tangled over a possible retrial following the Supreme Court ruling.

The result was that three forensics experts could not positively conclude whether the bullets were fired from Hinton’s revolver, or whether they came from the same gun at all, according to the state’s request to dismiss the case against Hinton. Bowers said the “bullets were so badly mutilated that they did not have the necessary microscopic markings to make a conclusive determination.”

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top