After being sentenced to death nearly three decades ago, Anthony Ray Hinton has been exonerated and was released on Friday. The Jefferson County district attorney's office moved to drop the case on Wednesday, after years of appeals that ultimately reached the United States Supreme Court.
Hinton was convicted of two separate shootings that left Birmingham fast-food workers John Davidson and Thomas Wayne Vason dead. The Associated Press reports that Hinton became a suspect after someone present at a third restaurant robbery identified Hinton in a photo lineup.
According to the AP, there was no evidence linking Hinton to the shooting other than bullets with markings that state experts said matched Hinton's mother's .38-caliber revolver—no fingerprints and no eyewitness testimony.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that Hinton's defense—his court-appointed lawyer mistakenly believed that he only had $1,000 to hire a ballistics expert—had been "constitutionally deficient," initiating a new trial and forcing prosecutors to review the evidence, the New York Times reports:
The only potential evidence that proves Mr. Hinton committed the murders “depends upon an absolute, conclusive determination that the bullets recovered from their bodies were in fact fired through the barrel of the firearm taken from the defendant’s home,” prosecutors wrote in their court filing on Wednesday.
After a new round of analysis, prosecutors wrote, state experts “found that they could not conclusively determine that any of the six bullets were or were not fired through the same firearm or that they were fired through the firearm recovered from the defendant’s home.”
Hinton was released Friday after prosecutors dropped the case on Wednesday. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, he is the second American to be exonerated from death row in 2015, the 152nd since 1973, and the sixth in Alabama.
"When the very people that you have been taught to believe in—the police, the DA, these are the people that are supposed to stand for justice—and when you know they have lied to you, it's hard for you to have trust in anybody," Hinton told the Times as he left the Jefferson County jail in Birminghan on Friday.
"When you think you are high and might and you are above the law, you don't have to answer to nobody," Hinton said, according to the AP. "But I got news for them, everybody who played a part in sending me to death row: you will answer to God."