BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A man who spent nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row was freed Friday after a decades-long fight to prove his innocence.
Ray Hinton, 58, was released in the morning from the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham. He hugged tearful family members as he walked out and was embraced by his sister, Darlene Gardner, who said “Thank you Lord, thank you Jesus” as she hugged him.
“I shouldn’t have sat on death row for 30 years,” Hinton told reporters. “All they had to do was test the gun.”
Hinton was convicted of the 1985 murders of two Birmingham fast-food restaurant managers. Crime scene bullets were the only evidence that linked Hinton to the crime. However, prosecutors said this week that modern forensic methods did not show the fatal bullets came from a revolver in Hinton’s home, or even from the same gun.
Hinton said he would continue to pray for the victims’ families, as this was a miscarriage of justice for them as well.
“They had every intention of executing me for something I didn’t do,” Hinton said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that Hinton had inadequate counsel and sent the case back for a second trial. Prosecutors had been preparing for a retrial but moved to dismiss the case following the testing on the bullets.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that Hinton had “constitutionally deficient” representation at his initial trial. Hinton’s defense lawyer wrongly thought he had only $1,000 to hire a ballistics expert to try to rebut the prosecution testimony about the bullets. The lawyer hired the only person willing to take the job at that price, even though he had concerns about the expert’s credentials. At the time, jurors chuckled as the defense expert struggled to answer questions on cross-examination.
Bryan Stevenson, Hinton’s attorney and director of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, said he pressed the state for years to re-test the gun, and for years officials refused. He said the case was emblematic of problems with the justice system.
Stevenson has said Hinton was convicted based on bad science because he didn’t have the money to prove his innocence at trial.
“He was convicted because he was poor,” Stevenson, who first took on the case 16 years ago, said Friday.