Connect with us

Featured Columnists

Anthony Ray Hinton has been exonerated, deserves compensation

Josh Moon

Published

on

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Make no mistake about it, Alabama Legislature, you can’t fix what happened to Anthony Ray Hinton.

Not even with $1.5 million.

Not with all of the public apologies in the world.

You can’t take 30 years of a man’s freedom, charging him with a crime he didn’t commit, and then fix that wrong with some money and a few resolutions.

Advertisement

But it’s a damn fine start.

A proposal from Sen. Paul Bussman to make three payments totaling $1.5 million to Hinton is the absolute least we can do. It should really be a no-brainer, despite the ignorant pleas of an Attorney General, a finance department lawyer and a deputy AG who all seem unfamiliar with America’s system of innocent-until-proven-guilty justice.

That AG Steve Marshall has the gall to say in public, as he did Thursday, that Hinton hasn’t been exonerated is staggering. And after last month, I didn’t think I could hold a lower opinion of Marshall.

The fact is Anthony Ray Hinton should have never been in jail.

What happened to him is the sort of injustice that falls upon the poor and poverty-stricken in America, and especially in Alabama, where bits of bigotry often fall into the mix as well.

Hinton was originally convicted of the 1985 murders of two fast-food workers in Birmingham. How police landed on Hinton isn’t clear, because there was zero physical evidence tying him to the crime.

No fingerprints.

No eyewitnesses.

No other physical evidence.

All police had were four bullets, which they claimed came from a gun owned by Hinton’s mother, with whom he lived at the time.

At his trial, Hinton’s court-appointed attorney mistakenly believed he had but $1,000 to spend on a forensics expert. So he hired a one-eyed former engineer who had trouble even viewing the evidence through a microscope. The prosecution was able to dismiss his testimony with ease, and Hinton’s own attorney said publicly that the expert was “inadequate.”

On that flimsy bit of evidence, and without the benefit of his own ballistics expert, Hinton spent 30 years in prison.

Until the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative came along. EJI pushed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial for Hinton based on ineffective counsel. As part of that new trial, the state was forced to do what Hinton had long begged it to — retest the bullets using today’s advanced forensics.

Guess what?

Three separate tests were “inconclusive” — an outcome a deputy AG at the time said was unheard of. They couldn’t even say for certain that all four bullets came from the same gun.

A Birmingham judge overturned his conviction. The state, lacking its only piece of evidence against Hinton, declined to take the case back to court.

And yet, on Wednesday, at a legislative committee hearing, at which Bussman made his pitch to pay Hinton, there was Marshall, the Alabama Finance Department and a Deputy AG all trying to lay one last injustice on Hinton.

Their claim: Since Hinton never received that new trial — the one the state declined due to having no evidence — he was never officially exonerated by a jury.

Marshall, speaking to a reporter from ABC 33/40, said Hinton is “not an individual we feel is exonerated.”

It’s a cowardly, gutless answer to a glaring embarrassment.

But I guess, at this point, we should expect nothing more from Steve Marshall, and Anthony Ray Hinton should expect nothing more Alabama’s justice system.

Which just continues to fail him.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | The voter fraud case no one wants to prosecute

Josh Moon

Published

on

Voting fraud is a serious matter for Republicans in Alabama.

They’ve forced through strict ID laws and limited access to polling places and done all sorts of things — short of addressing the one area (absentee ballots) where the overwhelming majority of fraud occurs — to prove just how serious they are about eliminating voting fraud.

Unless that fraud is committed by white, political donors, apparently.

Over in Russell County this week, a strange thing happened. As reported by the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Russell County Circuit Court Judge Michael Bellamy, the chief judge in the county, declared in open court that he was personally sending allegations of voter fraud to a grand jury.

Why would a judge make such an odd presentation to a grand jury — a presentation that would normally be handled by a prosecutor?

Advertisement

Because Bellamy can’t seem to get Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on the phone.

An exasperated Bellamy told the audience in his courtroom that he had made “repeated calls” to Marshall’s office. “I don’t know what else to do,” Bellamy said, according to the Ledger -Enquirer.

After 10 months, who would?

The allegations were first reported to Bellamy in his courtroom last December, a few weeks after the Nov. 14 municipal elections were held in Phenix City. They were familiar allegations.

A number of people had reported that several local realtors who lived outside of the Phenix City town limits had used their business addresses to register to vote in municipal elections. An investigation by Phenix City police found that 82 people had used business addresses to register to vote.

Russell County District Attorney Ken Davis was forced to recuse from the case, which sent the matter to the AG’s office for prosecution. Davis also indicated in the courtroom this week that he had been unable to reach anyone in the AG’s office, despite the fact he sent his investigative file on the case to Marshall’s office in May.

Davis did say he had corresponded with the AG’s office by email.

Mike Lewis, a spokesman for Marshall’s office, said, “We disagree with the characterization (of how the case has been handled).” Past that, Lewis said the office could not comment on a specific case it is working.

Secretary of State John Merrill said his office was contacted about the matter and has since followed up with Davis, several local officials and most of the registrar board.

“We are aware of a number of issues related to municipal contests in that county,” Merrill said. “We’ve had communications with municipal officials, and we continue to be diligent in our efforts with them. We’re confident that the people responsible will be dealt with.”

Why he’s sure isn’t clear. Prosecution is left up to the AG’s office, and sources familiar with the matter told APR that this isn’t the first time the Alabama AG’s office has slow walked voter fraud investigations.

Some of that could be the shrinking staff of the AG’s special prosecutions unit, which would be tasked with handling election fraud matters.

But such a delay — especially a delay in which a judge is personally reaching out to the AG’s office and doing so while other cases of voter fraud (in poor, mostly minority counties) are going full speed ahead — raises other questions. Questions about good intentions and political bias and favors for a group of realtors that isn’t shy about spreading around campaign donations (although none to Marshall’s campaign).

Something doesn’t seem right here.

Or maybe the GOP only cares about voter fraud when it can be used to limit Democratic voters.

Continue Reading

Bill Britt

Opinion | What is possible…

Bill Britt

Published

on

From the Capitol to the State House, from the business community to the halls of education, there is an urgent need for Alabama leaders who will work together to turn back the prevailing tide of self-dealing and mediocracy. Alabama is far too often the home of status quo where leaders don’t dare aim for the far horizon because that requires facing unpleasant facts that demand hard choices. Over the last several months, Alabama Power Company’s CEO, Mark Crosswhite, and  leaders from Regions Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield, PowerSouth, Protective Life Corp., and others marquee businesses displayed extraordinary courage to salvage the burning ship that was the Business Council of Alabama.

As Crosswhite said in announcing BCA’s restructuring plan, “The wholesale governance and leadership changes made today show what is possible when businesses come together with a common goal.”

The fight to save BCA was not merely about what was best for business but how BCA, as an institution, could serve the higher interests of the state. Again, Crosswhite makes the point, “While the hard work of moving this organization forward remains, I am pleased with this progress and look forward to working with businesses across our state for a stronger BCA and a better Alabama.”

There is indeed hard work ahead because over the last several years, BCA’s culture has been shaped by the self-interests of a few unprincipled individuals.

What is BCA’s core mission?

Advertisement

Its website says, “Making a sweet home for business.” That’s a slogan, not a purpose.

A mission statement in business is like an individual’s core beliefs; it is the guiding principle for every action and the place to run back to when things go wrong.

Going forward, the new executive committee will need to define what BCA is and what its character is.

Over the years, BCA has become synonymous with the Republican Party, but businesses, also like individuals, are more than a label. As billionaire industrialist Charles Koch said recently, “I don’t care what initials are in front or after somebody’s name.”

Perhaps Heather Brothers New, chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, said it best, “We are fortunate in Alabama to have a business community that understands the importance of providing strong leadership on matters that affect our state’s economic success,” New said. “Individuals, families, and communities can’t thrive if our state doesn’t provide an environment where businesses can thrive. Everyone in Alabama benefits from this effort to ensure a unified and effective BCA.”

With governance and leadership changes at BCA, there is an opportunity to start anew to create a better BCA to serve its members and the state. As Bobby Vaughan, a representative from the Alabama Self-Insured Worker’s Compensation Fund said, “At the end of the day, our members are our customers. Our job is to serve the interests of our members, and the new structure will enable us to do that more effectively.”

Crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin. Crosswhite and his fellow corporate leaders have shown what is possible. Now, the hard work begins.

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | Police are not above public scrutiny

Josh Moon

Published

on

Why are police above public scrutiny?

That seems to be a relatively new thing in this country, and it is a particular problem in Alabama — this notion that the general public has no right to even question a police officer’s actions.

We’re hiding body cam footage. There are very few regular citizens on cities’ police review boards. Some cities are hiding cops’ personnel files, despite that being one thing that Alabama Open Records Act laws specifically covers.

And if ever a cop is questioned … whoooo, boy! There will be shame and ridicule, and the full weight of city government will be brought down to protect the Brother in Blue.

It’s nonsense.

Advertisement

And it’s happening every day in this state. There are, specifically, two egregious cases active now — one in Huntsville, one in Montgomery. In both instances, city cops have been indicted on murder charges.

In Montgomery, the victim was black and walking through his neighborhood late at night. In Huntsville, the victim was white and police were responding to a mental health call.

In both instance, the county district attorneys — who each have to work with the police departments in those cities — reviewed the evidence and determined that enough existed to seek indictments. And in both cases, a grand jury issued those indictments.

That would seem like enough reason for the mayors of the respective cities — Todd Strange in Montgomery and Tommy Battle in Huntsville — to back away and allow the justice system to work.

They have not.

Battle last week asked his city council to cover the legal expenses for William Darby, the cop accused of murder. The council agreed unanimously, although it did put a $75,000 cap on expenses — a cap Battle said he disagreed with.

In Montgomery last year, following officer A.C. Smith’s shooting of Greg Gunn, Strange implemented an unprecedented city-led review, and he promised to allow Smith to remain on the MPD payroll, receiving his full salary and benefits, as he awaits trial.

Seriously consider the facts of these two situations.

In Huntsville, the taxpayers are footing the bill for private attorneys, when they are already paying for court-appointed attorneys for anyone who can’t afford legal representation. Apparently, public defenders are good enough for poor, mostly minority regular folks — even when they are accused of murder — but not good enough for cops.

In Montgomery, even as other city employees have been immediately terminated after their arrests for various offenses — all of which fall well short on the moral scale of murder — Smith remains fully paid.

When questioned about this early in the case, Strange said he wanted to wait on more facts to come out at hearings before making a decision on terminating Smith. A couple of weeks later, at a hearing, a State Bureau of Investigations officer testified that Smith admitted in interviews that he had no probable cause to stop, pat down, chase, strike, Taser or shoot Gunn.

That was not enough for Strange.

Nor was it enough when a second Montgomery judge proclaimed after an immunity hearing last month that he didn’t find Smith to be credible during his testimony.

In Huntsville, Battle cited a clearance by the HPD Incident Review Board as his primary cause for supporting Darby so vigorously.

He should be careful, because I can’t find a single incident in which the HPD review board didn’t clear an officer in a shooting. That includes a number of shootings in which the suspect was unarmed, and several in which other law enforcement officers also engaged the suspect and didn’t fire a shot.

In 2015, for example, Orlondon “Dre” Driscoll was shot by HPD officers after he exited, unarmed, from a car he was accused of stealing. The review board cleared the officers, saying that while Driscoll was unarmed, his hand made a motion as though he was pulling a gun.

It’s absurd.

And here’s the thing: In most cases, there is body cam footage of the incident. There’s certainly footage of the Darby shooting. But these same mayors and city governments and police departments have fought like hell to hide those videos from the public — the same public that pays the salaries of the officers.

In Montgomery, while there is no video — because Smith “forgot” to turn on his body cam — Strange has refused to release the findings of the city-led investigation into the Gunn alleged murder.

His reasoning: he doesn’t want to taint the jury pool. Which is not, as far as the law goes, an accepted exception under the  

Look, cops have a tough job. Yes, they are mostly heroic individuals who deserve our praise and admiration.

But you know what, it’s not like the job’s a mystery at this point.

We’ve all seen “Cops” on Fox and watched a thousand cop shows and reality cop shows on TV. If you sign up to be a cop in 2018, you know what you’re getting into, and you know the pay.

So, let’s stop pretending that the cops who have committed horrible acts of aggression and assault — and even murder — against the citizens they’re supposed to protect are somehow overwhelmed by the toughness of the job. Because that’s insulting to the 99 percent of cops who manage to not do anything illegal or dumb every day.

 

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | A blue few days away, and a same-sex wedding

Joey Kennedy

Published

on

After another disappointing Alabama election where voters decided against their better interests, I was characteristically frustrated.

One of my friends, this one living in northern Virginia, wrote to me: “Joey, you and Veronica should move to a blue state just for a little while. It’ll add 10 years to your life.”

I chuckled. I can’t say how many times a reader, equally frustrated, no doubt, at what I’d just written, said to me: “If you hate Alabama so much, move somewhere else.”

I don’t write what I write about Alabama out of hate. I write out of love. I love Alabama.

My other career is as an educator. I try to educate. I welcome people to fact check my work. If I make a factual mistake, I’ll correct it. If you disagree with my informed opinions, then let’s disagree. But you need to be informed as well. Show me your evidence, and I’ll show you mine. Indeed, I most often include my evidence in my columns.

Advertisement

Don’t tell me that Hillary Clinton is running a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor’s basement or that Sandy Hook is a hoax or that the Parkland survivors are “crisis” actors. None of that is true.

And don’t cite Breitbart or InfoWars or Judicial Watch as your sources. Keep Drudge and Rush Limbaugh and Dana Loesch out of it. If you cite Fox News, do it honestly, understanding that Fox has some credible news coverage, but then it has its idiots – the Hannitys and Ingrahams and Lahrens — who don’t give a whit about facts, only about slant, and who will twist their stories to “support” their latest right-wing conspiracy or left-wing outrage.

As a favor, I won’t cite MSNBC or the other “left” sources. I don’t watch MSNBC. CNN does generally good journalism, as does the three major networks. Mostly, I’m going to reference the Washington Post or The New York Times. But even more mostly, I’m going to do my own research and reporting. And thinking.

It’s not that difficult, as long as you don’t approach an issue with a preconceived idea. Keep your minds open, and do a little homework.

Thanks to the Internet, we have more information available to us today than ever before. Yet, we really seem a whole lot dumber. That’s because we only look for crap that validates our preconceived ideas, not the truth.

Find the truth, or at least get as close to the truth as you can get. Among my most difficult challenges as a writing teacher is to show students how important it is to approach issues with an open mind. If you can’t be persuaded by indisputable evidence, you’re not going to learn.

I’m going to California this week. I’m not moving there, so don’t get your hopes up. I’m going for a few days to participate in my “daughter’s” wedding. Nicole Bowland graduated from UAB, and adopted Veronica and me as her “parents” shortly after coming her from her home in California. She came on a volleyball scholarship, and her parents couldn’t attend volleyball events, so she adopted us. We’ve become very close over the past 15 years.

Nicole’s fiancé, Sara Kate Denton, has the full support of her family for the wedding. Nicole’s parents are not as supportive and won’t attend the wedding, so I’m filling in the “daddy” role at Nicole and Sara Kate’s ceremony.

I hope this brief trip to one of the bluest states may add at least a few days or hours to my life, but that’s not a real consideration. Dancing with my daughter at her wedding and toasting her marriage to Sara Kate are.

My friends in the blue states know they, too, have citizens who believe the conspiracy theories, who oppose same-sex marriage, who hate people different from them. They just don’t have them in as great of numbers (proportionately) as we do in Alabama.

We’re a herd state. We follow those deceitful politicians (and they’re a dime-a-dozen in Alabama, both Democrats and Republicans) who won’t tell us how to make education better or how to lower our prison population or what we need to do about gun violence, but would rather tell us why immigrants are evil, gay people are going to hell, black people are less than white, and women’s bodies should be controlled by men.

Right now, 63 percent of them support President Donald Trump, which makes us one of the Trumpiest states in the country.

Think for yourself. Question authority. If a politician or journalist tells you something, make him or her show you the evidence. Maybe it’s simply a good argument, based in fact, and it will get you thinking. Thinking critically. Thinking skeptically.

Don’t be in the herd.

I’ll be back soon.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

Anthony Ray Hinton has been exonerated, deserves compensation

by Josh Moon Read Time: 3 min
0