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Anthony Ray Hinton discusses experience on death row, release from prison

| Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Notre Dame Law School hosted Anthony Ray Hinton to deliver a lecture titled “From Death Row to a Life of Freedom” in the McCartan Courtroom on Tuesday. Hinton spoke about his experience living on death row for 30 years for two capital murder charges that he did not commit.

The lecture began with an excerpt from an NBC news piece on Hinton’s sentence, time in prison and eventual release.

“You never think about your freedom until it’s taken away from you. You can’t put a price tag on it,” he said in the NBC interview.

ANN CURTIS | The Observer

Anthony Ray Hinton visited Notre Dame Law School on Tuesday to discuss the 30 years he spent on death row in Alabama for crimes he did not commit, and his eventual release from prison.

Hinton spoke about the day he was arrested. He said that the two white police officers refused to tell him what he was being charged with and that one officer tried to restrain him from saying goodbye to his mother, who died while he was in prison.

“I didn’t say a word, I just showed my mother the handcuffs that’s connected to both arms, and she said, ‘What are those handcuffs doing on my baby?’” he said.

As he rode to the prison, still unaware of what crime he was being charged with, Hinton said the detective repeatedly told him, “Whether or not you’re guilty, I don’t care.”

He discussed his sentencing trial and his experience with a court-appointed attorney who did not believe in his innocence.

“The judge called the attorney upfront, and he told him that he wanted him to represent me on two counts of first-degree murder. Without even asking my name, the attorney said, ‘I didn’t go to law school to do pro-bono work,’” Hinton said. “I asked him, ‘Would it make a difference to you if I told you I was innocent?’ For the first time, he looked at me and said, ‘The problem with that statement is that all of y’all is always doing something and then saying you didn’t do it.’ This is the attorney I had to represent me to the best of his ability.”

Hinton described the ways he dealt with daily life in a 5-foot by 7-foot cell for 30 years.

“I had looked every way that I could to escape physically, but I couldn’t. So the next thing for me to do was to escape mentally,” he said.

He joked how his mental escapes during his time at Holman included a visit to the Queen of England for tea and a wedding with Halle Berry. He repeatedly refused to take a plea bargain because of his true innocence.

“If the state of Alabama is hell-bent on executing me,” he said, “then so be it.”

Eventually, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative took Hinton’s case and began the process of getting him another trial. The case had to be brought to the Supreme Court of the United States before the state of Alabama would revisit it. Hinton insisted that the experts in his trial had to be white men from the South in order to have any real influence in the court.

“Here I am on death row and I have to worry about what color a person has to be to help me,” he said. “Justice can see. She might have a blindfold around the eyes but she knows exactly who you are. She knows what college you attended, what neighborhood you’re from and she knows something that none of you want her to know: She knows exactly how much money you have in the bank.”

In light of all of this, Hinton’s final message was one of forgiveness and hope.

“Bitterness kills the soul,” he said. “I cannot hate because my Bible tells me not to. I’ve seen hate at its worst; what would it profit me, to hate?”

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