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.
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 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.
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.