Anthony Ray Hinton, 59, walked out of Jefferson County jail a free man on Friday morning after almost 30 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit.
He was greeted by 30 well-wishers who greeted him with cries of “Praise God, Praise God!”
Hinton was freed after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out his conviction last year. Prosecutors decided not to retry him for the killings of two fast-food managers in 1985 after experts failed to determine that the bullets were fired from the gun found at Hinton’s house.
Addressing reporters gathered outside the jail, Hinton said, “I want you to know there is Lord. For all those who believe in justice this is the case that proves it’s true.”
Among those waiting outside the jail was Hinton’s lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, director of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, who took on the case 16 years ago.
“How wonderful it is that freedom is finally back for this man,” he said. “He was convicted because he was poor.”
A former day laborer, Hinton plans to stay with a childhood friend upon release, Stevenson said. His mother died while he was in jail and he has no other family in the area.
Hinton spent most of the time in a solitary death row cell, said Stevenson. His case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in February last year agreed that Hinton had been inadequately represented at his trial. The Supreme Court ruling found that the court-appointed attorney put on the stand a firearms expert who he knew to be incompetent.
Stevenson also blamed the conviction, and the length of time it took to free Hinton, on prosecutorial misconduct and the indifference of judges.
“We gave the prosecutors every opportunity to do the right thing. They just would not do it.”
Hinton could not afford a defense lawyer, and the court-appointed attorney was paid $1,600 to represent him in three separate cases, including the two murders, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.
Fingerprints from the crime scene did not implicate him, nor did a polygraph test administered by police, the group said.
Hinton was linked to the murders by the victim in a third fast-food shooting who identified him as the shooter, it said.
When the third shooting occurred, Hinton was working in a locked warehouse about 15 miles (24 km) away, the group said. His boss and other employees vouched that he could not have committed the crime.
(Reporting by Wayne Hester. Writing by David Adams. Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bernard Orr)
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