BIRMINGHAM , AL (WAFF) - A man who spent more than 28 years of his life on death row in Alabama walked free on Friday. A judge on Thursday dismissed the case against Anthony Ray Hinton. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back for a potential new trial.
Prosecutors in a Wednesday court filing said forensic experts couldn't determine if crime scene bullets came from a gun found in Hinton's home.
Hinton was sent to death row on December 15, 1986 after he was convicted of two separate murders that happened during robberies at two fast food restaurants near Birmingham.
"[The prosecution] had every intention of executing me for something I didn't do," said Hinton on Friday, following his release.
Hinton said that he would continue to pray for the victims' family, just as he had for the past 30 years.
The Equal Justice Initiative, who took up Hinton's case in 1999, said there were no eyewitnesses to either crime and fingerprints lifted from the scene did not match Hinton. The EJI said the only evidence linking him to the crime was the testimony of a third victim at a Bessemer fast food restaurant. However, at the time of the third shooting, Hinton was working in a locked warehouse 15 miles from the crime scene. Although Hinton's supervisor and other employees confirmed his alibi, he was still prosecuted for capital murder.
Hinton was never charged for the third crime, but state lab technicians said that bullets retrieved from the crime scenes were fired from the same weapon. They said that the weapon was recovered from Hinton's mother.
The six bullets were the key evidence that led to Hinton's conviction. The Supreme Court said that Hinton had an inadequate defense because of a low-cost ballistics expert who was quickly discredited on cross-examination.
According to court documents, believing he had only $1000, Hinton's attorney hired Andrew Payne, a visually-impaired civil engineer with no firearms identification expertise. Payne admitted that he could not operate the machinery necessary to examine the evidence.
"This is a perfect example of why the death penalty needs to be eradicated," wrote the ACLU in a Thursday statement. "It raises the question yet again: how many other people have been wrongly killed by the state?"
"It's rare where cases ultimately get reversed like this," said Attorney Mark McDaniel.
While this case was reversed, it doesn't really have a conclusion.
"There's not enough conclusive evidence proof to prove that this guy did it," said Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard. "On a case like this you will never know if he was in fact innocent or not."
McDaniel said this system might not be perfect, "but it's the best system in the world."