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One of the longest serving Alabama death row inmates will walk free on Friday after a judge dismissed the capital murder charges against him, finding there was not enough evidence to link him to the crimes.
Anthony Ray Hinton, who was on death row for nearly 30 years, had been charged and convicted in the 1985 murders of two Birmingham area fast-food managers.
Managers John Davidson and Thomas Wayne Vason were fatally shot in two separate fast-food robberies in 1985. While there were no witnesses to the murder or fingerprints found at the scene, Hinton was arrested after another employee identified him in a photo lineup, according to his lawyers.
Hinton was convicted on the claim that a revolver taken from his mother’s home was the weapon used in both murders, Hinton’s attorneys, with the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), said in a statement Thursday.
The case’s dismissal comes 13 years after Hinton’s attorneys presented testimony from ballistics experts that determined the revolver from his mother's home could not be matched to the crimes, according to the statement.
Hinton was granted a new trial in 2014 after the United States Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling. Prosecutors in Hinton's new trial said forensic scientists tested crime scene evidence and found the bullets recovered from the site of the murders could not be matched to Hinton’s gun, according to NBC affiliate WVTM. Jefferson Court Judge Laura Petro on Thursday granted the state's motion to dismiss the charges against Hinston on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to conclusively link him 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 in a statement. "The refusal of state prosecutors to re-examine this case despite persuasive and reliable evidence of innocence is disappointing and troubling."
The EJI said in the statement that they believe Hinton's wrongful conviction was the result of the prosecutor's "racial bias."
"Race, poverty, inadequate legal assistance, and prosecutorial indifference to innocence conspired to create a textbook example of injustice," Stevenson said. "I can’t think of a case that more urgently dramatizes the need for reform than what has happened to Anthony Ray Hinton."
Political network Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty issued a statement Thursday night on Hinton’s exoneration, saying: "Because of inept legal representation and faulty forensics, he has lost 30 years of his life, which he spent on death row, and could have easily been wrongly executed by the State of Alabama. The ease at which people are wrongly convicted and sentenced to death is appalling and should give conservatives pause."