By Staff Reporter
Prosecutors dropped the case against Anthony Ray Hinton, 58, when new ballistics tests contradicted the only evidence that linked him to the murders of two restaurant managers in 1985.
He told the BBC the case against him was “built around racism and a lie”.
His advocate Bryan Stevenson said the case demands a review.
Mr Hinton walked free from Jefferson Country Jail in Birmingham, Alabama, on Friday.
His lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, had argued for years that the case against Mr Hinton was flawed: that he had an alibi for when one of the crimes was committed, passed a lie detector test when he was first arrested, and no evidence corroborated the ballistics results used to convict him.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Hinton said: “I was at work when one of the crimes took place. That wasn’t good enough for them. They didn’t even begin to check my alibi.
“They just had a young black man – I was 29 years old – and I didn’t have no money and in the United States, especially in the South that spells conviction.
“This whole case was built around racism and a lie.”
He said he was told by police the crime would be “put on him” and there were five things that would convict him.
“The police said: ‘First of all you’re black, second of all you’ve been in prison before, third, you’re going to have a white judge, fourth, you’re more than likely to have a white jury, and fifth, when the prosecution get to putting this case together you know what that spells? Conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction, conviction.’ He was [right] and that’s what happened.”
He said: “I think if I’d have been white they would have tested the gun and said it don’t match and I would have been released, but when you’re poor and black in America you stand a higher chance of going to prison for something you didn’t do.”
Lawyer Mr Stevenson, who has been described by Desmond Tutu as America’s young Nelson Mandela, said when he first looked at the case against Mr Hinton he was shocked that he could be convicted of murder and sentenced to death based on the false allegation that bullets could be matched to a gun owned by Mr Hinton’s mother.
“Had he had the money to get the experts he needed to expose that lie he would never ever have been convicted,” Mr Stevenson said.
Mr Stevenson added that when “the best experts in the country” proved the bullets could not have come from the Hinton gun, Alabama would still not re-test the evidence and reopen the case.
He said: “For 16 years Mr Hinton spent additional time locked down on death row simply because the state was not willing to risk the perception that they are not tough on crime and instead decided to risk the execution of an innocent person and that for me was the most shameful part of this case.”
“Mr Hinton is the 152nd person to be exonerated after being sentenced to death.”It’s a shocking rate of error. No system would tolerate that rate of error that cared about the people that were at risk but because most of the people on death row are poor or people of colour we seem to not care as much that some of them are innocent.”
He wants a review of the case, compensation to be awarded and conviction integrity units to be established.
Mr Hinton said: “To me, America need to clean up their own home before they tell another country about human rights. I’m a primary example. America don’t care nothing about human rights.”
He described the feeling of being free as like a child having his first Christmas.
On his first day from prison he visited the grave of his mother who died while he was incarcerated.
He said he is shocked by seeing the technology in use today and seeing the different kinds of clothes being worn now compared with when he went to prison in the 1980s.
Asked if he felt angry about the people who imprisoned him he said: “I am a joyful person. I have a good sense of humour and that’s what kept me for the 30 years I was locked up.
“I couldn’t let them steal what I had left which was joy. They had robbed me of my 30s, my 40s and my 50s so if I get mad and hate them I’m letting them steal my joy.”
He said he was taking life “one step at a time” and wanted to “just try to live within my own means, try to bring joy to someone else, live a fruitful life and just be happy”.