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Anthony Ray Hinton & His Attorney Discuss Hinton’s Exoneration After 30 Years on Alabama Death Row

Anthony Ray Hinton, a 59-year-old black man, was wrongfully convicted in Alabama of murdering two fast food restaurant managers in 1985. The US Supreme Court vacated his conviction last year and, after 30 years on death row, Hinton was freed from jail.

His exoneration made Hinton the 152nd person to be exonerated from death row in the United States.

Hinton and Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who helped Hinton challenge his wrongful conviction since 1999, appeared on “Democracy Now!” today. It was the first time that they had sat down together for an interview since Hinton was released from prison on April 3.

When he walked out of jail, Hinton shared, “I just felt so relieved at knowing that I was finally being free for something I had been telling people [I didn’t do].”

“From where I’ve been for 30 years, just to be able to come out and knowing that I wasn’t going to have to be locked back up, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Stevenson, who is also the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, explained that Hinton’s case is “a very powerful demonstration of the critique of the American criminal justice system,” which they both believe treats a person better if they are “rich and guilty” and not “poor and innocent.”

There are some incredibly stunning aspects to the injustice Hinton experienced, which Hinton and Stevenson highlighted during the interview.

For sixteen years, the state of Alabama refused to retest evidence that would show the bullets could not be matched to any single gun and certainly not any gun Hinton ever used. Host Amy Goodman mentioned “the state’s evidence of a match” was “discredited by three highly qualified firearms examiners, including the former chief of the FBI’s Firearm and Tool Marks Unit who testified in 2002 that the bullets from all three crimes could not be matched to a single gun at all, much less to Anthony’s mother’s gun.”

That was 13 years ago, which means for well over a decade the state of Alabama obstructed his exoneration and even fought to keep him on death row.

“We went to every attorney general and the state of Alabama during four administrations. We repeatedly asked the prosecutor. And they just decided to see if they could get away with holding onto this conviction,” Stevenson recalled.

He suggested:

…It was indifference, it was irresponsible. It was really unconscionable that they chose to risk executing an innocent person over risking the perception that they were somehow making a mistake or not being tough on crime. And they fought us tooth and nail. And I have to say, it was quite an unlikely and rare occurrence that we could get the United States Supreme Court to intervene when we did. Had they not intervened, I think the risk of a wrongful execution would have been very, very high. There [has] been no accountability. The experts have not been held accountable. The prosecutors have not been held accountable. There’s been no apology. There has been no offer of any kind of assistance. And I think this case is a really shameful example of all the reforms that are desperately needed…

Race also had a lot to do with what happened to Hinton, according to Stevenson:

The investigators who worked on this case would been previously charged in federal court for torturing black prisoners. They had been using cattle prods to coerce statements out of black prisoners. The prosecutor claimed that Mr. Hinton was innocent by looking at him he said he could tell he was evil, just by looking at his face. That prosecutor had been reversed many times for excluding African-Americans from serving on juries. Mr. Hinton was convicted in part because of the burden of — the presumption of guilt that gets assigned to too many black and brown people in this country when they are accused of a crime.

Hinton was black, poor and innocent and that made it easy for the state of Alabama to put him on death row because it meant that he could not afford to pay for a good ballistics expert that would be able to rebut the evidence the state was using against him. He ended up having to hire a person who was not only incompetent but also “blind in one eye.”

According to Hinton, “When he went to the forensic science to check the gun, he didn’t even know how to turn on the basic machine. He had to ask for help to turn on the machine. That should have been a red flag for those men sitting there watching this man ask for help. And not only that, he said that once he got up under the microscope, all he could see was his finger. So, he testified in court that he had very limited eyesight, he had very limited in the telescope he was using. I just don’t understand how a judge or anyone could qualify him as being an expert. They kept using the term, well, he knows more than the average person.

“I think there’s some laws need to be changed around here. Just because you read a magazine about surgery, don’t mean I can come up to New York and give you open heart surgery. And so, this is what we need to try to change in Alabama. People just getting up on the stand and testifying, considering theyselves an expert,” Hinton added.

What this amounts to is a form of modern-day lynching, declared Stevenson:

…[We] have these decades of lynching, of terrorism directed at African Americans because that same presumption of dangerousness and guilt made people comfortable doing horrific things to people during the course of these lynchings.

When the federal government threatened to intervene again in the South, there was great pressure to move the lynchings indoor. And that was really the beginnings of the modern death penalty. The short, unreliable, meaningless trials where people were presumed guilty and quickly sentenced to death. And that legacy of inadequate justice that begins with the Scottsboro Boys and continues in the 1940’s and 1950’s and 1960’s and 1970’s and was on display in the 1980’s when Mr. Hinton was wrongfully convicted, has never really been challenged…

Hinton managed to escape being lynched by the state, but there are black bodies in the ground that were put there because of systemic racism that permeates the entire criminal justice system in the United States.

Although Alabama did not execute any people in 2014, four new death sentences were issued, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

NPR reported in July 2014 that Alabama is the “only state in which judges routinely override jury decisions not to impose the death penalty.”

There are 198 inmates on death row in Alabama, the fourth highest in the United States. And there is no law or policy in place that requires a prosecutor to review a case for evidence that might lead to an outcome like the one in Hinton’s case.

The state depends on the “integrity” of prosecutors, judges and other elected officials, who in many criminal cases prove they do not have such integrity at all.

Alabama may have never given Hinton an execution date. It still stole 30 years of his life, which he’ll never get back. And, currently, there are no laws in Alabama (or many other states) to prevent officials from robbing other black, poor and innocent men of 30 years of their life because the state does not want to admit it was wrong.

***

“Democracy Now!” committed a full hour to the death penalty issue today. The full interview with Hinton and Stevenson appears at the top of the post. The program also highlighted the case of Glenn Ford who is dying from stage four lung cancer and accruing expenses in hospice care. Ford claimed the state of Louisiana knew he had cancer in 2011 but did nothing to treat it. He applied for compensation and was denied.

The show wrapped with coverage of the American Pharmacists Association’s new policy instructing members not to provide execution drugs.

CommunityThe Dissenter

Anthony Ray Hinton & His Attorney Discuss Hinton’s Exoneration After 30 Years on Alabama Death Row

Anthony Ray Hinton, a 59-year-old black man, was wrongfully convicted in Alabama of murdering two fast food restaurant managers in 1985. The US Supreme Court vacated his conviction last year and, after 30 years on death row, Hinton was freed from jail.

His exoneration made Hinton the 152nd person to be exonerated from death row in the United States.

Hinton and Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who helped Hinton challenge his wrongful conviction since 1999, appeared on “Democracy Now!” today. It was the first time that they had sat down together for an interview since Hinton was released from prison on April 3.

When he walked out of jail, Hinton shared, “I just felt so relieved at knowing that I was finally being free for something I had been telling people [I didn’t do].”

“From where I’ve been for 30 years, just to be able to come out and knowing that I wasn’t going to have to be locked back up, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Stevenson, who is also the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, explained that Hinton’s case is “a very powerful demonstration of the critique of the American criminal justice system,” which they both believe treats a person better if they are “rich and guilty” and not “poor and innocent.”

There are some incredibly stunning aspects to the injustice Hinton experienced, which Hinton and Stevenson highlighted during the interview.

For sixteen years, the state of Alabama refused to retest evidence that would show the bullets could not be matched to any single gun and certainly not any gun Hinton ever used. Host Amy Goodman mentioned “the state’s evidence of a match” was “discredited by three highly qualified firearms examiners, including the former chief of the FBI’s Firearm and Tool Marks Unit who testified in 2002 that the bullets from all three crimes could not be matched to a single gun at all, much less to Anthony’s mother’s gun.”

That was 13 years ago, which means for well over a decade the state of Alabama obstructed his exoneration and even fought to keep him on death row.

“We went to every attorney general and the state of Alabama during four administrations. We repeatedly asked the prosecutor. And they just decided to see if they could get away with holding onto this conviction,” Stevenson recalled.

He suggested:

…It was indifference, it was irresponsible. It was really unconscionable that they chose to risk executing an innocent person over risking the perception that they were somehow making a mistake or not being tough on crime. And they fought us tooth and nail. And I have to say, it was quite an unlikely and rare occurrence that we could get the United States Supreme Court to intervene when we did. Had they not intervened, I think the risk of a wrongful execution would have been very, very high. There [has] been no accountability. The experts have not been held accountable. The prosecutors have not been held accountable. There’s been no apology. There has been no offer of any kind of assistance. And I think this case is a really shameful example of all the reforms that are desperately needed…

Race also had a lot to do with what happened to Hinton, according to Stevenson:

The investigators who worked on this case would been previously charged in federal court for torturing black prisoners. They had been using cattle prods to coerce statements out of black prisoners. The prosecutor claimed that Mr. Hinton was innocent by looking at him he said he could tell he was evil, just by looking at his face. That prosecutor had been reversed many times for excluding African-Americans from serving on juries. Mr. Hinton was convicted in part because of the burden of — the presumption of guilt that gets assigned to too many black and brown people in this country when they are accused of a crime.

Hinton was black, poor and innocent and that made it easy for the state of Alabama to put him on death row because it meant that he could not afford to pay for a good ballistics expert that would be able to rebut the evidence the state was using against him. He ended up having to hire a person who was not only incompetent but also “blind in one eye.” (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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