An Alabama man on death row for nearly 30 years was ordered on Thursday to be set free, after new evidence discredited the prosecutions decades-old case. Anthony Ray Hinton was 29 years old when he was convicted of the 1985 murders of two fast food workers in Birmingham. “While there were no witnesses to the murder or fingerprints found at the scene, Hinton was arrested after another employee identified him in a photo lineup, according to his lawyers,” NBC News reports. Prosecutors made the case that the murder weapon used in both murders was a revolver Hinton took from his mother’s home. A jury found Hinton guilty and he was sentenced to death.
Here’s more on the trial from the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit that provides legal help to indigent prisoners:
Anthony Hinton, 29 years old with no history of violent crime, steadfastly maintained his innocence. A polygraph test given by police exonerated him, but the judge (now-retired Circuit Judge James Garrett) refused to admit it at trial. Mr. Hinton was appointed a lawyer who mistakenly thought he could not get enough money to hire a qualified firearms examiner. Instead, he retained a visually-impaired civil engineer with no expertise in firearms identification who admitted he could not operate the machinery necessary to examine the evidence. With no credible expert to challenge the State’s assertion of a match, Mr. Hinton was convicted and sentenced to death.
EJI took up Hinton’s case and in 2002 presented new forensic evidence and expert testimony that refuted that the murder weapon was the revolver linked to Hinton at trial.
The State’s evidence of a match was wholly discredited by three highly qualified firearms examiners, including the former chief of the FBI’s firearm and toolmarks 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 Mrs. Hinton’s gun, and found that her gun could not have fired the bullets from the third uncharged robbery. For more than fifteen years, attorneys with the Equal Justice Initiative repeatedly have asked state officials to re-examine the evidence in this case, but former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber, and Attorneys General from Troy King to Luther Strange, all failed to do so… Last year, the United States Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction based on his attorney’s deficient representation, and Judge Petro ordered a new trial.
Prosecutors decided not to retry the case and Judge Petro ordered Hinton, now 57, to be released from prison on Friday. “Hinton plans to stay with a childhood friend upon release,” Hinton’s lawyer told Reuters. “His mother died while he was in jail and he has no other family in the area.”