Sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit, Anthony Ray Hinton spent 30 years in an Alabama prison awaiting execution. He went from despair and bitterness to hope and forgiveness.
Death Row is designed to mentally destroy you. This statement is not made by a researcher or activist, but by a man who has spent most of his life imprisoned in a tiny cell, waiting to die.
Committed Christian Anthony Ray Hinton is not one to use the word “hell” lightly; yet this is what three decades of solitary confinement at the William S. Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama looked like.
At the age of 29, Hinton was convicted of the murders of two fast food restaurant managers and sentenced to death. There were no fingerprints or witness statements to convict him, and the guy’s boss testified in court that Hinton was working in a warehouse 15 miles from the crime scene at the time of the murders.
He also had no history of violent crime and a polygraph test indicated he was innocent. So how could such a serious miscarriage of justice happen?
Locked up, Hinton hosted what he calls a three-year “pity party”. But after that, he found a new purpose, managing to revive his Christian faith in the face of unimaginable pressure.
While in custody, he witnessed to 54 of his cellmates being led to the electric chair. Hinton could smell burning flesh – the stench of death – wafting up the corridor towards him. He knew he might be next, but chose to believe, “The God I love will never let me die for something I didn’t do.”
“I have had the privilege of a wonderful life. I loved playing sports and was looking forward to having a family one day,” said Anthony Ray Hinton. “Then the police came up to me and said they had a warrant for my arrest. I asked, “What charges?” And they answered: “We will explain to you later.” I was handcuffed and charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
Like most African Americans, I still had a glimmer of hope that they would come to their senses and realize that they had taken the wrong person.
I honestly answered their questions. But they were so fixated on making someone pay for the crime…
I didn’t have the money to hire a decent lawyer and in the United States the justice system is built around who you can afford to hire.
In America you are treated better if you are guilty but rich than if you are innocent but poor. I was poor and innocent.
The police told me: “There are five things that they are going to convict you for. You’re black. The white man will say you shot him. You will have a white prosecutor. You will have a white judge. And you will have a completely white jury … ”
The system can come and take you at any time, and it came and took me at 29.
My mother was devastated and I worried about her more than anyone else. I didn’t know if she fully understood that they had just sentenced her little boy to death.
I think my whole family was shocked, because I was raised to believe that if you did nothing wrong, then you have no reason to be afraid of the police. I told the truth that day and that truth cost me 30 years. And, if not for the grace and mercy of God, it would have cost me and my whole life.
After so many years of being raised in a Christian family, after being firmly convinced that only God can give rain, only God can make the sun shine, I believed the Word of God and knew that God would have the final say. So when I was arrested and found guilty, I became angry with God. I couldn’t understand it.
When I was on death row, the only book I was allowed to have was the King James Bible. I remember how in desperation I threw it on the bed. I didn’t mean to read it. For three years I refused to talk about God or even mention His name.
Then I really realized that God doesn’t need me, I need Him. I realized that no matter what, God loves me. And God is going to protect me. So, I got over my pity party, came to my senses, and began to pray. I asked God to forgive me. And I began to say: “Lord, if it is Your will, I ask you to let me go from this place.”
My faith got stronger and made me see: if you believe in God, then what are you worried about? Just wait on God, He will come and deliver you.
I sincerely believe that God brought me to death row to meet people who needed to see that love has no color.
Today, I sincerely believe that many of my interlocutors are seated in Heaven.
Over time, I stopped thinking about myself and realized that God had chosen me to fulfill mission. I am proud that He chose me to meet these people and show them what true love is.
You must sincerely believe that God brought you out of point A and He is not going to leave you. He will guide you through it.
I am currently dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome [PTSD]. Nobody treated me. But I often tell people that I have the best psychiatry in the world – my heavenly Father, who guides me and directs me every day and who continues to give me strength … ”
After 30 years of support from family and friends and a decade of campaigning with the Equal Justice Initiative, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned Hinton’s conviction in 2015.
After not seeing the light of day for years, his first words upon leaving prison were, “The sun is shining!” This phrase became the title of his best-selling memoirs, which received the approval of Oprah Winfrey, Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson.
Based on Premier.Christianity.