An Alabama man who spent nearly 30 years on death row was freed from the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham on April 3 after a decades-long fight to prove his innocence.
Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested in 1985 and charged with two separate shooting murders that occurred during robberies at two fast food restaurants near Birmingham, Alabama. He was convicted of murder based solely on ballistic tests, which both the National Academies of Science and the FBI have since determined to be scientifically unreliable. Hinton’s court-appointed lawyer recognized prior to trial that the expert he had retained to challenge the prosecution’s critical forensic evidence was not competent to do so, but wrongly believed he could not obtain the funds necessary to hire a better one.
In a “friend of the court” brief filed before the US Supreme Court in October, 2013, TCP argued that the failure to hire a qualified expert violated Hinton’s Sixth Amendment right-to-counsel, which may have “led to a miscarriage of justice, and caused an innocent man to be sentenced to death.” The Supreme Court agreed and, last February, directed Hinton’s case be returned state court to determine whether or not his lawyer’s failure to hire a competent expert witness unfairly prejudiced the case against him.
Prosecutors had been preparing for a retrial but moved to dismiss the case after a more thorough forensic analysis showed that the bullets did not come from Hinton’s gun. Hinton was represented in his appeal by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative.