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Ex-Alabama Death Row Inmate Seeking Compensation for '30 Years of Hell'

Alabama man who spent 30 years on death row for murders he did not commit says 'they're raping me again' after bid for compensation thwarted.
Image: Anthony Ray Hinton
Anthony Ray Hinton is hugged as he leaves the Jefferson County jail on April 3, 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama. Hal Yeager / AP file

The state of Alabama took 30 years of Anthony Ray Hinton's life when they sent him to death row for two murders he did not commit.

Now they won’t give him a dime.

Hinton’s application for redress was unanimously approved by a state senate committee earlier this year and an Alabama lawmaker introduced a bill that would have set aside $1.5 million for what the 61-year-old Hinton calls "30 years of hell."

But the state legislature never got around to debating that bill before wrapping up its session in May, leaving Hinton bitter and practically broke two years after his convictions were tossed.

Image:  Anthony Ray Hinton gets a hug
Anthony Ray Hinton gets a hug as he leaves the Jefferson County jail on April 3, 2015, in Birmingham, Alabama. Hal Yeager / AP file

"I feel like I been raped the first time and now they’re raping me again," said Hinton. "I get tired of talking about race, but I have to call a spade a spade. They’re doing this to me because I’m a black man and they have the power. They’re doing this to me because they can."

Clay Redden, a spokesman for the Alabama State Legislature, confirmed Hinton’s compensation bill “never made it to the Senate floor.”

“It was approved 11 to nothing” by the state Committee on Compensation for Wrongful Incarceration, he said. “But that’s as far as it got. It was a rough session getting things passed.”

In addition to having a busy agenda, the legislature was wrapped up in the drama surrounding Gov. Robert Bentley, who was dubbed the “Love Gov” after he was accused of trying to cover up an adulterous affair with a former adviser. He resigned in April to avoid impeachment.

“We just ran out of time,” said State Sen. Paul Bussman, the Republican lawmaker who sponsored the bill to compensate Hinton.

"To take thirty years of my life and not give me one dime, that’s not right. That’s not justice. I would like to ask the world, where is my justice?”

But Alabama lawmakers did manage to pass the Fair Justice Act, which is designed to speed up executions by reducing the number of years death row inmates can appeal their sentences.

In an April opinion piece for the Alabama Media Group, Hinton said that if that law had been around while was behind bars “I would have been executed despite my innocence.”

At least Hinton has Bussman in his corner.

“Yes, I do,” the lawmaker told NBC News when asked if he plans to introduce another bill to compensate Hinton when the legislature gets back to work again in January.

Hinton landed in a 5-by-8 foot cell that would be his home for 10,419 days after he was convicted of the 1985 murders of two Birmingham-area fast-food managers, John Davidson and Thomas Wayne Vason. Both men had been gunned down in separate fast-food robberies.

There were no witnesses. No fingerprints were found at the crime scenes.

But Hinton was arrested after a fast food worker picked him out of a photo lineup. And he was convicted after prosecutors convinced a jury that a .388 caliber revolver taken from his mother’s home was the murder weapon.

Image: Anthony Ray Hinton speaks to the media outside Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Alabama, April 3, 2015.
Anthony Ray Hinton speaks to the media outside Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham on April 3, 2015.Marvin Gentry / Reuters

Hinton insisted he did not kill anyone and that he was the victim of racist prosecutors and police officers.

"I was convicted solely on the state’s assertion that a gun in my mother’s home was the weapon used to commit these two murders," he would later write.

"Because my appointed lawyer failed to get adequate expert assistance to prove that the prosecutor’s claims about this weapon were false, I was convicted and sentenced to death."

It wasn’t until 1999 that the state’s case against Hinton began cracking.

Experts hired by the Equal Justice Initiative, which took up the Hinton case, had the so-called murder weapon and the bullets recovered from the victims tested by a team of forensic experts.

Their conclusion? No match.

But the state Attorney General’s Office refused repeated requests by Hinton’s lawyers to run their own tests on the revolver and bullets.

So Hinton languished in a cell for 16 more years before the U.S. Supreme Court finally ordered the Alabama AG’s office to do the tests. He was released in April 2015 after Jefferson Court Judge Laura Petro granted the state's motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds there was not enough evidence to conclusively link Hinton to the crimes.

"We are thrilled that Mr. Hinton will finally be released because he has unnecessarily spent years on Alabama’s death row when evidence of his innocence was clearly presented," Bryan Stevenson, Hinton's lead attorney and executive director of EJI said at the time. "The refusal of state prosecutors to re-examine this case despite persuasive and reliable evidence of innocence is disappointing and troubling."

But even after all that, some state officials continued to question whether Hinton was innocent and eligible for compensation.

"The fact that thirty years later different ballistic experts are unable to say conclusively that this gun fired the fatal shots, without the benefit of the original test fired projectiles used by the original examiners, is not evidence of innocence," Assistant Attorney General James Houts wrote to the compensation committee.

Redden said that Hinton will have to wait until January, when the legislature reconvenes, and go through the entire application process once more to receive any compensation.

“It starts all over again,” Redden said.

Hinton, who makes ends meet by occasionally talking to college classes about what he endured, said he has no choice but to go through the grueling process again.

“When I got out I had no income to speak of,” he said. "The state of Alabama gave me no clothes, no food, no place to live. To take thirty years of my life and not give me one dime, that’s not right. That’s not justice. I would like to ask the world, where is my justice?”