Anthony Ray Hinton was exonerated on April 3rd after spending 30 years – his 30s, 40s, and 50s – on death row in Alabama. Hinton is one of 1,583 people who have been exonerated for serious crimes in the U.S., according to the National Registry of Exonerations. He is one of 152 people exonerated after being sentenced to die (experts estimate that about 4% of death row prisoners are innocent). His exoneration concludes 15 years of work on the part of the Equal Justice Initiative, led by Bryan Stevenson.
Hinton was convicted of killing two restaurant managers, despite evidence that he was locked in a warehouse working overnight. The only physical evidence linking him to the murders was a .38 police found under his mother’s mattress, which a state expert testified matched the bullets fired in the two murders. His defense attorney was inaccurately informed that he could have only $1,000 to hire his own expert, and, unable to find a qualified expert available at that sum (and unwilling to ask for more), hired a retired civil engineer with one eye.
Although the Equal Justice Initiative took the case in 2000 and hired three experts who all found that the gun did not match the bullets (nor did the bullets match a single gun more generally), current and former prosecutors resisted reconsidering the evidence for more than a decade. Anthony Ray Hinton paid the price of an inadequate defense attorney, a complicit judge, and a negligent prosecutor, and then continued paying it as prosecutors blocked a much-needed review.
After 30 years on death row, Mr. Hinton has a long road of adjustment ahead of him. He told the Marshall Project about several of these challenges:
It took me a little while to remember how to use a fork. You know we don’t use forks in the penitentiary. You get a spoon. And the spoon is plastic, so I haven’t used a fork in 30 years. I just really tried to order something that didn’t make me look like I didn’t have any home training. It’s like learning everything over again.
No one has apologized on the part of the state, nor have individual prosecutors acknowledged their mistakes. Here’s hoping Mr. Hinton and his attorneys win a great big award for damages, both for his sake (he hasn’t been in the traditional workforce for thirty years, for example) and in order to hold Alabama accountable to the greatest degree possible for this injustice.