Anthony Ray Hinton sits at the front of the Schoonover Center lecture hall. The room is packed with students, community members and faculty waiting to hear his story: the story of an African-American man who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
“I want people to know that the system is not what you think it is,” Hinton says. “The lady that you think is blind, she can see. She know what race you are, she know what gender you are, she know what college you go to, she know what neighborhood you live in, she know how much money your parents have. And if you ever find yourself in her courtroom she put all that together and it had already been determined whether you will be found innocent or guilty. Those are facts.”
Hinton came to Ohio University as the second speaker in the 90 Minutes series, a collection of conversations with seven diverse speakers including activists, policy-makers and journalists.
The goal of the series, according to emcee Max McDulin, is to “host conversations on campus on issues that matter.”
Hinton was convicted of two murders in 1985, despite very little evidence against him and zero eyewitness testimonies. As a black man from Alabama, he is upfront about the role his race played in the sentencing; he had a white judge, a white district attorney and an all-white jury.
He says one of the white detectives responsible for his arrest told him, “I don’t care whether you did or didn’t do it. But I need you to hear this: I’m going to make sure that you’re found guilty.”
He spoke about his time in prison and his long fight to be free.
“I went through pure hell,” he says. “If it wasn’t for my imagination, I have no doubt that I would have hung myself.”
He credits his mother’s unconditional love and his sense of humor as key assets to his survival in the extreme isolation of death row.
Hinton was freed on April 3, 2015, when a new look at the evidence of his case showed the bullets used in the crime did not match his mother’s gun, the alleged murder weapon.
After only two years as a free man, the pain is still fresh. There are times when Hinton fears he will be sent back to jail.
“I don’t really think that I will ever be free,” he says, “simply because I am constantly worrying and wondering, when are they coming?”
He has come to accept that feeling as a part of his new life. “I don’t think I should have to live like that,” he says, “but that’s what 30 years will do to you. That is what they have done to me.”
Now that he is out of prison, Hinton has dedicated his life to making sure that what happened to him will never happen again. On the day he was freed, Hinton was the 152nd person on death row to be later found innocent.
“The justice system needs a major, major overhaul,” he says, “How many men and women need to be exonerated before we say we don’t need a death penalty in this country?”
His story was eye-opening to many in the audience, shining a light on the inequalities that exist in the American justice system.
“I thought it was a really, really cool perspective,” junior Abby Jane Showalter says. “[It’s] kind of one of those things that shows you how much you don’t know about something.”
The next installment of the 90 Minutes series will be AP reporter Jesse Holland. Holland will be speaking at 7p.m. on September 20, 2017 in Schoonover Center 145.