Anthony Ray Hinton Exoneration Gets Widespread Attention


News media from the United Kingdom to China are reporting on the exoneration of Anthony Ray Hinton, who was released on April 3 after thirty years on death row for crimes he did not commit.

Mr. Hinton was convicted of two capital murders in 1985 based solely on the assertion that a revolver taken from his mother’s home was the gun used in both murders and in a third uncharged crime. In 2002, EJI attorneys presented evidence from top gun experts that the revolver could not be matched to crime evidence, but Alabama prosecutors refused to re-examine the case until this spring, when state scientists confirmed that the bullets cannot be matched to the revolver.

International media are reporting on how Mr. Hinton’s case exemplifies the problems with America’s death penalty system. As the Guardian reported, EJI’s Bryan Stevenson “called Hinton’s conviction a ‘case study’ in what is wrong with the American justice system.” Mr. Stevenson leads Mr. Hinton’s legal team at EJI. “We have a system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent and this case proves it,” he told reporters. “We have a system that is compromised by racial bias and this case proves it. We have a system that doesn’t do the right thing when the right thing is apparent. Prosecutors should have done this testing years ago.”

In its interview with Mr. Stevenson, China Central Television highlighted the role of race and poverty in Mr. Hinton’s wrongful conviction. The prosecutor had a documented history of racial bias and said he could tell that Mr. Hinton was guilty and “evil” solely from his appearance. Because Mr. Hinton was poor, he was appointed a lawyer who mistakenly thought he could not get enough money to hire a qualified firearms examiner. The United States Supreme Court found this lawyer was constitutionally deficient, which led to the reversal of Mr. Hinton’s conviction and death sentence.

Mr. Hinton discussed the role of racism in an interview with BBC Radio. “When you’re poor and Black in America,” he said, “you stand a greater chance of going to prison for something you didn’t do.”

Mr. Hinton’s release also has prompted editorials in local and national papers of record. The New York Times cited his case in an editorial condemning the unreliability of the death penalty. Noting that Mr. Hinton is the 152nd person to be exonerated and released from death row in America, the editorial board wrote “[t]hat is far more than often enough to conclude that the death penalty — besides being cruel, immoral, and ineffective at reducing crime — is so riddled with error that no civilized nation should tolerate its use.”

Closer to home, local citizens called for accountability, urging Alabama voters in the future to “think seriously about electing law enforcement officials who care more about justice than about points in the win column at any cost.”