When Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man, was put on death row

In 1985 at 29, Anthony Ray Hinton was wrongfully charged and sentenced to death by electrocution for crimes he didn’t commit. The only thing he had in common with the perpetrator was the colour of his skin. Anthony spent the next 28 years of his life on death row, watching fellow inmates march to their deaths and knowing he would soon follow.The Sun Does Shine is his incredible story, and below describes the terrifying moment he was arrested.

Anthony Ray Hinton

Burnwell, July 31, 1985

July is always hot in Alabama, even when it’s cloudy out, so when my mother asked me to mow the lawn, I didn’t want to do it. In fact, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I was thinking about seeing my girl, Sylvia, later, and I was thinking about the revival we were going to at church. And the last thing I wanted to do was get all hot and sweaty cutting the grass. I had already washed my car, a sweet, red Nissan that we had put in Sylvia’s name because I was still cleaning up the mess I had made of my credit when I was younger. The heat was settling in, and all I wanted to do was drink something cool in the shade of my mama’s living room.

“I’ll cut that grass tomorrow,” I said, settling down on her worn couch. She just looked at me in that quiet way she had that meant business. “Now I’m trying my best to see how you get to ‘I’ll cut it tomorrow’ from my telling you to cut it now.”

You don’t raise ten children on your own by putting things off until tomorrow, and all of us kids had grown up knowing that once you were told to do something, you rarely got out of doing it. But if anyone had a chance of sweet- talking Mama, it was me.

Not today.

I cranked up the old lawn mower and started running through Bible verses in my head. I had to pick something to recite later at church, and I wanted to look good both for God and for Sylvia. As I went back and forth across the front lawn, I finally settled on one that seemed perfect for the day — Philippians 2:14–15. I knew it would make my mama smile to hear me read the beginning of the verse: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”

I don’t know what made me look up right then to see the two white men standing on the back porch. They were staring at me, and neither was smiling. I cut off the lawn mower as the rest of the verse ran through my mind: “So that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent children of God, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”

“Anthony Ray Hinton?” One man took a step toward me, yelling my name, and I noticed that both men each held a hand over the gun at his side. “Police!”

I had no idea why there were two policemen on my mama’s porch, but I wasn’t afraid. We had always been taught if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have no reason to fear and certainly no reason to run. I hadn’t done anything wrong since I’d gotten out, and I checked in regular since I had been paroled. There was nothing to be afraid of.

I walked to the top of the driveway. “We need to talk to you.” They flanked me on both sides and sort of nudged me down the driveway to their car. It was then that I felt a little twinge at the back of my shoulder blades, and my stomach felt like it does when you ride over the top of a hill real fast in a car.

“Am I going to jail?” They patted me down and cuffed my hands behind my back.

“I didn’t do anything,” I said. My voice was a little loud, a little sharper than I wanted it to be. One guy started to open up the back door of their car. “What’s this about?”

“They will tell you when we get you to Bessemer.”

“Can I go in and tell my mom that I’m leaving?” What ever this was about, I knew it would get cleared up fast. I hadn’t done anything wrong.

They walked me up to the side door, and I yelled for my mom. She opened the door, and the three of us took a step in.

“They are arresting me. Taking me to jail. Don’t worry. I didn’t do anything. Don’t worry.” I said it fast because I could see the confusion on her face, and I didn’t want her to start
yelling at the police or to start crying. Just like that, they turned me around and walked me back to the car. A sergeant named Cole introduced himself and read me my rights.

“Is that your car?” The other man pointed to my red Nissan.

“Yes. My girlfriend leased it for me. It’s in her name, but it’s my car.”

“Do you mind if we search it? And your bedroom?”

I didn’t mind. Maybe that would get these cuffs off me and I could avoid a trip to jail for no reason. “Sure. I want you to. Please search them both.” The sooner they searched, the sooner they could get out of here and I could finish cutting the grass and get to the revival and Sylvia. I knew my mom would probably help them search my room. She would want to help the police fix whatever mistake was made that had me sitting in the back of a police car in handcuffs.

I sat with Cole in the car while the other guy, Sergeant Amberson, searched my car and my room. He walked back out to the car with nothing in his hands. They hadn’t found anything. I was hoping this meant I could go.

My mom walked out the back door, following him.

“Let’s go!”

Suddenly, they were both in the car, and the doors slammed shut while the ignition turned on, and I could see my mom walking toward the front of the car, and she started yelling just like she used to do during one of my baseball games.

“That’s my baby! That’s my baby!”

Only she wasn’t cheering, she was crying, almost sobbing, and my hands were behind my back, so I yelled out as loud as I could as they swung the car out at the bottom of the driveway.

“It’s okay, Mama! It’s going to be okay.”

They started down the road, and I swiveled my head back to see my mom standing at the bottom of the driveway with her arms stretched toward me. She was crying and yelling, and I saw our neighbor’s front door open, so I knew someone would go to her.

It felt like my heart was going to crack in two pieces.

“It’s okay,” I mumbled. “It’s all going to be okay.”

I watched the trees go by and felt the rumble under me as we crossed over the railroad tracks at the end of the street. This was all going to work itself out. I hadn’t done anything wrong. That was the truth, and the truth would set me free so that I could go back home and put my arms around my mama. She didn’t like to be alone at night, so I just hoped that what ever this was could be cleared up in a few hours.

I closed my eyes as we continued the drive into Bessemer. These guys weren’t saying anything else and neither was I until somebody told me what this was about. Once they told me, I would clear it up, and I would be out of these cuffs and back home.


I just wanted to go home.


Birmingham, August 2, 1985


Capital murder warrants were issued yesterday charging a suspect in a Bessemer robbery and shooting with the slayings of two Birmingham fast-food restaurant managers.

Anthony Ray Hinton, 29, of Burnwell near Dora in Walker County was being held without bond yesterday. He is charged with the slayings of John Davidson on Feb. 23 and Thomas Wayne Vason on July 2.

Both men were shot in the head and left to die in the walk-in coolers of their restaurants. . . .

Hinton also is being held in Sunday’s robbery of Quincy’s Family Steak house. . . .

Smotherman survived to give police their first description of the robber, and later to identify Hinton as the man who shot him. . . .

Authorities also recovered from Hinton’s home the .38-caliber pistol used to fire the shots that killed Vason and Davidson and wounded Smotherman, Birmingham Homicide Sgt. C. M. Quinn said.

“We had the bullets matched with each other already,” Quinn said. “All we were lacking was the weapon they were fired from, and we (got) that yesterday and took it directly to ballistics. They worked on it a good portion of the night and gave us the results.”

He was transferred from the Bessemer City Jail to the Jefferson County Jail.

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