A 58-year-old Alabama man who spent half his life on death row walked free Good Friday after prosecutors determined he did not fire the gun that killed two fast-food managers during 1985 robberies.
“I shouldn’t have sat on death row for 30 years,” Anthony Ray Hinton said outside the Jefferson County Jail, where he was awaiting a retrial after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled his original lawyer did not adequately defend him. “All they had to do was test the gun.”
He said the state “had every intention of executing me for something I didn’t do.”
Hinton called it a “miscarriage of justice, not only to me, but the victims’ family.”
“I will continue to pray for you as I have for 30 years,” he said.
The primary evidence police used to link Hinton to the slayings were bullets at two crime scenes. But earlier this week, prosecutors said modern ballistics tests proved they did not come from the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver found in Hinton’s home or even from the same type of gun. The charges were dropped.
“He was convicted because he was poor,” said Bryan Stevenson, Hinton’s attorney and director of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, who took the case 16 years ago. He said the state refused his appeals to re-test the gun.
“His case, in my judgment, is a case study in what’s wrong with our system,” Stevenson said. “We have a system that’s compromised by racial bias, and his case proved it.”
Hinton was convicted of the Feb. 25, 1985, slaying of John Davidson, an assistant manager at a Mrs. Winner’s Chicken & Biscuits in Birmingham, who was shot twice in the head inside a walk-in cooler. He was also found guilty of the July 2, 1985, killing of Thomas Vason, an assistant manager at a Captain D’s, who was likewise shot in the head inside a cooler.
Hinton was sentenced to death in 1987.
Jason Davidson told AL.com he does not believe that Hinton’s release proves he did not murder his father.
“This is a difficult time for my family and at this time the only thing I have to say is God will have the ultimate decision on if he is guilty or not,” Davidson wrote in an email. “I see (it) as a murderer has been set free today.”
There was no immediate comment from Vason’s family.
As he walked out of the Birmingham jail a free man, a tearful Hinton was embraced by family and friends.
“Thank you, Lord, thank you, Jesus,” Darlene Gardner exclaimed as she hugged her brother.
“The sun do shine,” Hinton said. “I want you to know there is a God. He sits high but he looks low. He will destroy but yet he will defend, and he defended me.”
“But when you think you are high and mighty and you’re above the law, you don’t have to answer to nobody, but I’ve got news for you,” he said. “Everybody who played a part in sending me to death row, you will answer to God.”