Anthony Ray Hinton delivers a powerful lecture
On February 28, Florida State University students, faculty, and guests gathered for the next speaker in the Golden Torch Lecture Series: civil rights activist Anthony Ray Hinton. Hosted by the Club Downunder at the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, viewers felt the raw emotion of Hinton, a wrongfully convicted inmate who spent nearly three decades in solitary confinement on death row at the Jefferson County in Birmingham, Alabama. Hinton captivated audiences with a rousing honesty and her poignant story of hate, healing and forgiveness.
The conference began with Hinton recounting the day of his arrest in great detail. “I woke up like I do every morning…I knew my mom was cooking,” Hinton recounted.
His peaceful morning was quickly interrupted when officers – with a warrant for Hinton’s arrest – taunted, handcuffed and arrested the teenage Hinton. His alleged charges included first-degree kidnapping and attempted murder, and when Hinton maintained his innocence, an officer responded with a blatant threat: “I don’t care if you did it or not, but I’m going to sure you’re found guilty.
For his trial, Hinton, a black man living in the Deep South, found himself before a white judge, a white prosecutor, a white witness and an all-white jury. Beside him stood a state-appointed white defense attorney who actively sabotaged Hinton’s defense, ignoring the prosecution’s blatantly falsified evidence and biased expert testimony. The outcome of the trial, based on the color of his skin rather than reliable forensic evidence or testimony, resulted in a swift conviction and death sentence for Hinton.
Hinton’s case was eventually discovered by The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, Alabama-based nonprofit that provides free legal representation to marginalized victims of the criminal justice system. The organization’s founder and executive director, Bryan Stevenson, took over Hinton’s defense after Hinton, to Stevenson’s surprise, quickly declined a plea deal offered by one of Stevenson’s fellow lawyers.
“I could never stand up and say I did something when I didn’t,” Hinton said.
Stevenson worked tirelessly on Hinton’s case, and after years of appeals and sustained efforts by the Equal Justice Initiative, the State of Alabama finally dropped Hinton’s convictions and granted him his freedom. after 28 years in solitary confinement on death row.
After the main part of Hinton ended, audience members lined up to ask the 65-year-old questions about finding hope, his adjustment to life after incarceration and his relationship with God.
“…to look toward more positive things, like forgiveness and compassion as opposed to revenge and anger,” said FSU freshman Lucas Saltedo when asked about the underlying messages of the Hinton conference.
Hinton is just one of 186 innocent citizens exonerated from death row since 1973. During his lecture, Hinton revealed that he has never received an apology from the state of Alabama or of one of the people involved. Despite heinous abuses of justice, Hinton decisively proclaimed that the justice system in the United States was not broken. In fact, he has proclaimed that it functions exactly as it is supposed to: as an instrument of white supremacy and as a new form of slavery.
More details of Anthony Ray Hinton’s decades-long brush with death are detailed in his best-selling New York Times book “The Sun Shines: How I Found Life and Freedom Down the Hall of Death.” dead”. Selected for Oprah’s Book Club in the summer of 2018, it is the autobiographical account of Hinton’s difficult journey on death row, coming to terms with God, himself, and a system diametrically opposed to his existence.