The Alabama Legislature for three years running has refused to approve reparations to Anthony Ray Hinton, the Jefferson County man who spent almost 30 years on death row before prosecutors dropped all charges against him. Today, Oprah Winfrey announced a decision that could help Hinton financially.
Winfrey this morning revealed that Hinton’s memoir, “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row,” is her latest Oprah’s Book Club selection. Oprah’s Book Club’s popularity is credited with increasing sales of the books she selects, often driving obscure titles to best-seller status.
“Over the years, I’ve chosen many great novels – very few memoirs for my book club,” Winfrey said in a video posted on www.oprah.com. “But this story reads like an epic novel, and it is all true.”
Hinton was convicted of two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of two Birmingham-area fast-food restaurant managers. A restaurant manager in Bessemer who later survived a similar attack identified Hinton from a photo lineup, even though Hinton was working in a secured warehouse 15 miles away on the night of the crime. Hinton passed a lie detector test before the trial and maintained his innocence – something on which he never wavered.
Hinton was convicted based largely on state forensics experts’ testimony that a rusty .38-caliber pistol recovered from Hinton’s mother’s home had fired the bullets that killed the two men. Hinton’s “expert,” a civil engineer by training, was such a disaster on the stand that Hinton said he knew he was doomed.
For almost 30 years, Hinton tried to survive Alabama’s death row while a series of lawyers handled his appeals. His break came after a dozen years on death row when acclaimed lawyer Bryan Stevenson took Hinton’s case. “Today is the day that God opened up my case,” Hinton wrote of that moment.
Even with Stevenson’s expertise – he had won a MacArthur “Genius” Grant for freeing an innocent man from Alabama’s death row – Hinton remained on death row for more than 15 more years and suffered through crushing legal defeats. In 2014, though, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Hinton had not received a fair trial and vacated the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals’ ruling upholding the state court verdict. The appeals court sent the case back to Jefferson County, where prosecutors dropped all charges against Hinton rather than trying a case with new testing on Hinton’s gun that couldn’t prove it fired the crime scene bullets.
“Mr. Hinton was falsely convicted of murder and spent 30 years on death row before he was finally released,” Winfrey said. “It’s unimaginable. And you will throughout the book try to imagine yourself falsely accused and in a 5-by-7 (-foot) cell for 30 years. He is a remarkable storyteller and when you read it, you will be swept away into this unbelievable, dramatic true story.”