Anthony Ray Hinton
Anthony Ray Hinton spent 29 years on Alabama's death row for a 1985 double robbery-murder that he did not commit. His case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which paved the way for his exoneration in April 2015. His case rested on shoddy ballistics and mistaken eyewitness testimony, and a polygraph he passed was not allowed into evidence by the trial judge. In 1986, it took the jury just one hour to convict Anthony of both murders by a vote of 10-2. Alabama is one of three states that does not require a unanimous verdict to send a person to death row.
After the murders of Thomas Wayne Vason and John Davidson at two restaurants in Jefferson County in 1985, Anthony was identified as the shooter in a third robbery, which caused police to search Anthony's mother's house, where they found an old, very worn .38 revolver hidden under a mattress. Even though there was no other physical evidence tying him to any of the crimes, state firearms experts claimed that the bullets used in all three robberies came from the gun. The defense expert, whose specialty was vintage WWII weaponry and who was blind in one eye, did not test-fire the weapon and was unable to properly examine the bullets using a microscope.
All the while, Anthony protested his innocence, claiming he had been at work all night in a warehouse that locked its employees in from midnight to 6am, so he couldn't have possibly committed the murders. Moreover, neither of Anthony's cars fit the description of the larger automobile an eyewitness claimed the attacker was driving. Still, the jury sentenced him to death.
His convictions and death sentence were upheld on appeal to the Alabama Court of Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court. In 1998, Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization in Alabama that provides legal assistance to indigent defendants and prisoners, began representing Hinton.
In 2002, EJI commissioned a re-examination of the bullets and gun by three different experts. All three experts testified that they could not conclude that any of the six bullets had been fired from the revolver. The prosecution’s response was to argue that the EJI experts essentially said the same thing that the defense ballistic examiner said at trial—that the results were inconclusive. EJI head Bryan Stevenson then took Anthony's case to the US Supreme Court.
In February 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated Anthony's conviction and death sentence and ordered a new trial. The Court ruled that his trial lawyer had provided a constitutionally inadequate legal defense by failing to seek more money to obtain a qualified ballistics expert.
In preparation for a retrial, the prosecution had new experts re-examine the bullets and gun. The prosecution experts also concluded that they could not link the bullets from the victims to the gun found in Hinton’s home. Based on their findings, the Jefferson County district attorney dismissed the charges, and Anthony was released.
While relieved to be off death row, Anthony talks often to groups and the media about his time in prison for a wrongful conviction, and the difficulties exonerees have adjusting to life after exoneration, even with the smallest, mundane things we take for granted: "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."