After being on Alabama’s death row for 30 years, Anthony Ray Hinton is a free man. Hinton was known as being the longest serving inmate in the state, having been in prison for over half his life. During the entire time on death row, he insisted he was innocent of the crime of murder of two men and this morning, he walked away free.
The four bullets that ultimately lead Hinton to death row is the same ammunition that freed him. As he stated to reporters, if they had tested the gun they would have cleared him 30 years ago. Hinton also said that everyone who was involved in putting him on death row would one day stand before God.
Hinton was convicted of two separate murders of restaurant workers. The first was John Davidson who was killed in February of 1985 and Thomas Vason in July of that same year. While there were no witnesses who could connect Hinton, no physical evidence, and no fingerprints, there was a question of bullets and a gun found in possession.
However, lawyers working on behalf of Hinton worked for years to determine if the bullets were 100% connected to the murder weapon. The gun found actually belonged to Hinton’s mother, who also lived in the home with him. Tests performed raised more questions about his involvement and whether the gun fired the bullets. In fact, concerns were raised that the bullets that killed Davidson and Vason had even come from the same weapon.
Based on ballistic evidence and testimony from an eye witness who was at a crime scene Hinton was never at, is what put him away an on death row. Last year, the US Supreme Court had a unanimous ruling that Hinton’s right to a fair trial was violated and therefore, the conviction was overturned.
Apparently, the defense lawyer working for Hinton had hired an expert witness. This trained civil engineer’s qualifications were considered inadequate. The problem is that the lawyer believed he had a $1,000 budget in hiring an expert so he went with the “expert” that could be afforded.
Once the ruling was handed down, followed by a ruling from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, a new trial was granted to Hinton. For prosecutors, it was a nightmare. Many of the witnesses had since passed away and a lot of evidence was either lost or destroyed. With that, a request was made to the Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Laura Petro from Hinton’s attorneys and the Equal Justice Initiative to dismiss the charges.
After three modern day experts were unable to link the bullets in the murders to Hinton’s weapon, Assistant District Attorney Mike Anderton and Chief Deputy Jefferson County District Attorney John Bowers who work as prosecutors for the state of Alabama, asked the charges to be dismissed. With that, Judge Petro freed him.