Speaker discusses time on death row

Lexi Langendorf, Staff Writer

Anthony Ray Hinton speaking at UWO
Lexi Langendorf / Advance-Titan
Anthony Ray Hinton speaks to UWO students about the 30 years he wrongfully served on death row for a crime he didn’t commit in 1985 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man who wrongly served 30 years on death row, shared his story with UWO students at a speaker event last Thursday night.
Hinton said that he was imprisoned for most of his life after being charged with two capital murders committed in 1985. His conviction rested solely on the assertion that a revolver belonging to his mother was the gun used in both murders.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, Hinton was one of the longest serving death row prisoners in Alabama history and among the longest serving condemned prisoners to be freed after presenting evidence of innocence.
At age 29, Hinton was arrested while mowing his mother’s lawn and taken to Birmingham County Jail.
“When I woke up that morning, going to jail wasn’t on my mind because I hadn’t committed a crime,” Hinton said.
“I must’ve asked the detectives 50 times, ‘why am I being arrested?’” Hinton said. “But they never responded.”
Finally, Hinton said that the detectives told him that he would be charged with the murders and robberies.
“The detective said: ‘You’re being arrested for five things,’” Hinton said. “‘One, you’re Black; two, a white man is gonna say you shot him; three, you gonna have a white prosecutor, a white judge, and a white jury. Conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction.’”
Hinton said he told the detectives that he could never take another human being’s life, but he remained locked in a cell. And then one day, an officer spoke to him.
“He said, ‘Let me be honest with you. I truly believe you didn’t do it. But there’s always someone. Why don’t you just take this rap for one of your homeboys?’ And I said back, ‘Officer, there’s not a homeboy in the world that I would take a rap like this for.’”
Hinton said he stayed in Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Alabama for a year and a half before his trial.
On December 17, 1986 Hinton was sentenced to solitary confinement for 30 years.
“Once I was on death row I didn’t say a word to another human being for three long years,” Hinton said. “I was angry. Angry because my mother raised me to believe in this justice system.”
While on death row, Hinton said that he frequently imagined scenarios with celebrities in his head. He said he had tea with the Queen of England, and at one point he was married to Halle Berry but divorced her for Sandra Bullock.
“I was in hell, but I didn’t wanna live in hell,” Hinton said. “So I imagined.”
Hinton described the moment when he was brought out of his cell to meet with an attorney from Boston, who was sent by the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson.
“The lawyer said he could get me life without parole,” Hinton said. “My mother always told me to tell the truth. So I said, ‘you want me to confess to a crime I didn’t commit? I could never stand up and say I did something I didn’t. And by the way, I need a lawyer that believes in me.’”
Hinton said he sent the lawyer away, then wrote Bryan Stevenson a letter asking for him to consider being his lawyer.
When Stevenson accepted, Hinton said that he had no doubt in his mind that God had sent him His number one lawyer.
“So we asked the attorney general to re-examine the evidence,” Hinton said. “He said as far as he was concerned, it would be a waste of taxpayer money. The next two attorney generals also refused to re-examine the evidence.”
While working with Stevenson to escape death row, Hinton got word that his mother had died.
“When I got that news, I informed Mr. Stevenson that I didn’t give a damn about that case,” Hinton said. “I didn’t care if the state of Alabama came and executed me right then.”
Hinton said he didn’t see a world without his mother.
“But that night in my cell, I could hear my mother telling me that she didn’t raise a quitter,” Hinton said. “And I never wanted to disappoint my mother.”
So, with Stevenson by his side, Hinton filed a case to the United States Supreme Court, which, according to Hinton, did something it had never done in the history of the courts.
“All nine justices ruled that I was entitled to a new trial,” Hinton said.
But Hinton reflected on his isolated death row experience, sharing that some days he would ask the officer outside his cell, “is the sun shining?”
“A man next to my cell on death row was a young 19-year-old KKK member named Henry who grew up in a hateful environment,” Hinton said. “For 15 years I had the pleasure of trying to convince him that I wasn’t his enemy.”
Hinton said that he and Henry eventually became good friends.
“On the day of his execution, I told Henry that I truly considered him my friend and loved him like a brother,” Hinton said. “Before his death, Henry said, ‘all my life I was told to hate. But the very people that they taught me to hate for the last 15 years have shown me nothing but love.’”
Hinton said that every day he finds himself crying for what he went through and for the things that he’s seen.
“If you lived 30 feet from the death chamber and all you could do was smell the flesh of another human body, how could one erase that?” Hinton said.
But Hinton said that he forgave the men that put him on death row and kept him there.
“I forgive the men that got together and did this because they had the power to,” Hinton said. “I didn’t forgive them so they could sleep good at night; I forgave them so I could sleep good at night.”
Hinton ended his speech asking UWO to ask themselves what they would do if they were charged with a crime they didn’t commit.
“What would you do if you were asked to take a polygraph test where they care more about the color of your skin than the results?” Hinton said. “What would you do if you had to live in a cell the size of your bathroom the rest of your life? What would you do if you’d been waiting all your life to die, and one day, you were set free?”