Anthony Ray Hinton's wrongful conviction and time on death row is featured in the upcoming drama, “Just Mercy.” The film, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, follows attorney Brian Stevenson as he fights for the wrongly imprisoned — including Hinton.
Hinton (portrayed in the movie by O'Shea Jackson Jr.) was arrested and convicted in Alabama in 1985 for the murders of two fast food restaurant managers who worked at different places, and who were killed months apart that year, NBC News reports. The evidence against Hinton was scant: There were no fingerprints at the scenes and no witnesses who placed him there, according to the outlet. The only thing reportedly linking Hinton to the crime was the word of a fast food worker who picked Hinton out of a line-up, leading to his arrest.
Hinton also had an alibi — he was employed at a warehouse at the time of the murders, and his boss said on the stand that Hinton was at work at the time of at least one of the murders, The Guardian reports. But Hinton was ultimately convicted due to a gun that was discovered in his mother’s home, where he lived. The gun belonged to his mother, but forensics experts hired by the state of Alabama claimed that it was the murder weapon. This was contested by another expert, a civil engineer with visual impairments hired by Hinton’s public defender. The civil engineer testified that the ballistics test did not link the gun authorities found to either of the shootings. But, Hinton was still convicted and sentenced to death. He went on to spend 28 years on death row — 30 years in all, without his freedom.
Hinton’s public defender was roundly criticized for his work — he tried to appeal his case and routinely failed, according to The Guardian. Hinton’s luck changed, however, when Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer with the Equal Justice Initiative, took on his case. Still, even though Stevenson had new ballistics tests performed on Hinton’s behalf, the Alabama courts denied the appeal, after taking two years to deliberate.
Twelve years after the new ballistics tests were ignored by an appeals court in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court finally overturned Hinton’s conviction and granted him a new trial, at which point a new judge promptly dismissed the charges, according to a release from the Equal Justice Initiative.
Hinton was exonerated in 2015, when he was 59 years old, according to NBC News.
Following his release, Hinton famously remarked, “The sun do shine.”
“Thirty years ago, the prosecution seemed deemed to take my life from me,” he continued, according to an NPR report. “They just didn't take me from my family and friends. They had every intention of executing me for something I didn't do. But for all y’all that’s snapping the cameras, I want you to know there is a God.”
Hinton started a book club while he was incarcerated, and went on to write a memoir about his experience, called, “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row.” Since its publication in 2018, the book has been widely praised, with Oprah Winfrey selecting it for her official book club last June and applauding Hinton in a string of interviews, according to CBS This Morning.
Hinton has also found success as a motivational speaker and fierce advocate for prison reform, having been invited to dozens of universities and conferences to share his story since his release, according to the Macmillan Speakers Bureau. St. Bonaventure University in New York awarded Hinton an honorary doctorate degree in May.
"Just Mercy" opens in limited release on Christmas Day, and hits theaters everywhere on Jan. 10. Watch a trailer here.
Get all your true crime news from Oxygen. Coverage of the latest true crime stories and famous cases explained, as well as the best TV shows, movies and podcasts in the genre. And don't miss our own podcast, Martinis & Murder!