The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and
Freedom on Death Row
by Anthony Ray Hinton
Anthony Ray Hinton was an ordinary man. He was born in Alabama in 1956, played baseball at West Jefferson High School in 1974, and worked in the coal mines upon graduation. Despite a brief stint in prison for stealing a car, Hinton kept his nose clean, but he was black and this was Alabama.
On July 31, 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested. He was charged with the 1985 slayings of two Birmingham fast-food restaurant managers and the robbery of Quincy’s Family Steakhouse.
The police believed all of the crimes were connected and questioned Hinton about his whereabouts. Despite having an alibi, Hinton remained in police custody. “I can give you five reasons why they are going to convict you,” said one arresting officer. “Number one, you’re black. Number two, a white man gonna say you shot him. Number three, you’re gonna have a white district attorney. Number four, you’re gonna have a white judge. And number five, you’re gonna have an all-white jury.”
With court-appointed attorney Sheldon Perhacs and a one-eyed ballistics expert, Anthony Ray Hinton never stood a chance. In December 1986, Hinton listened as the judge read aloud the official death sentence. He was sentenced to death after incarceration in Holman Prison in Atmore.
For the next 28 years, Anthony Ray Hinton waited for his date of execution. For three whole years, he did not speak to anyone. “At that moment in time, I felt God had truly failed me because I was not responsible for any death,” said Hinton. Hinton smiled through the pain, made friends with the guards, and banged on the bars of his cell as other block mates were executed at Holman.
After meeting the Equal Justice Initiative group and lawyer Bryan Stevenson in the late 1980s, Hinton and Stevenson set out on a 16-year journey to freedom. In 2014, Hinton’s case was appealed to the U.S Supreme Court and his original lawyer was deemed “constitutionally deficient.” A retrial was necessary, but the Jefferson County district attorney’s office moved to drop the case. Experts were unable to match crime-scene bullets to Hinton’s gun.
Hinton was released on April 3, 2015. As he walked out a free man, Hinton said, “I closed my eyes, and I lifted my face to the sky…I had lived in a place where the sun refused to shine. Not anymore. Not ever again. The sun does shine.”
My thoughts: We all have events we would like to forget, but we live with the past—bad or good. It cannot be undone. Alabama has a rich history, but there are events we would like to forget or change. That would be an injustice in itself. The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row serves as a reminder that it is not always where you are that determines your attitude. It also shows we need to learn from our past and never repeat it.
Ricky Statham is the director of Oneonta Public Library. Visit the library Monday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., to check out this or another great book.