MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An Alabama inmate who spent nearly 30 years on death row will go free Friday after prosecutors told a court there is not enough evidence to link him to the 1985 murders he was convicted of committing.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Laura Petro on Thursday dismissed the case against Anthony Ray Hinton. The district attorney's office told the judge Wednesday that their forensic experts couldn't determine if six crime scene bullets — which were the crux of the evidence against Hinton at an expected retrial — came from a gun investigators took from his home.
Hinton was convicted of two 1985 murders that occurred during robberies of fast-food restaurants near Birmingham. Prosecutors linked Hinton to the killings through a .38-caliber revolver found at his house.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year sent Hinton's case back for a potential new trial, which prompted a re-examination of the evidence.
"We've been hoping for this. We've believed that this should have happened," said Bryan Stevenson, Hinton's attorney and director of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative. The Jefferson County District attorney's office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Stevenson has been arguing for 16 years that Hinton was innocent and that he was at his job at a warehouse when the crimes were committed.
Hinton wept Wednesday night after learning the news that he would finally go free, Stevenson said.
A spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections said Hinton is expected to be released from the Jefferson County Jail on Friday morning.
"Every day, every month, every year that the state took from him, they took something that they don't have the power to give back. While this moment is quite joyous and is quite wonderful, this case is quite tragic," Stevenson said.
At his initial trial, state experts testified that the four bullets fired during the robberies, and another two from a similar robbery-shooting at a Quincy's restaurant in Bessemer, had all been fired from a revolver found at Hinton's home.
The Supreme Court last year ruled that Hinton had "constitutionally deficient" representation at his initial trial. Hinton's defense lawyer wrongly thought he had only $1,000 to hire a ballistics expert to try to rebut the prosecution evidence, according the court opinion. Hinton's lawyer hired the only person willing to take the job at that price, even though he had concerns about the expert's credentials.
"He was a poor person who was convicted because he didn't have the money to prove his innocence at trial. He was unable to get the legal help he needed for years. He was convicted based on bad science," Stevenson said.