91短视频

Exonerated Death Row Inmate Anthony Ray Hinton Urges Forgiveness and a Call to Action

News Story categories: Black Studies Criminology Honors 91短视频 Up Close Sociology and Anthropology
Two individuals engaged in a discussion on stage, with one seated to the left in a listening posture and the other seated to the right speaking and gesturing.

Anthony Ray Hinton, author of the memoir The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, shared the story of his wrongful conviction for two murders he did not commit, his 30 years spent on Alabama鈥檚 death row, and the onerous legal journey to be freed to a capacity audience inside Blackwell Auditorium at the Center for the Performing Arts on March 7.

The talk, which urged for criminal justice reform, but also stressed the importance of hope and forgiveness, was part of the Paul and Lois Watkins Lecture Series and began with introductions from 91短视频 President Robert R. Lindgren and Lauren Bellamy 鈥24, an English major who is a member of the College鈥檚 Honors and Leadership Fellows programs.

Hinton began his talk with a poignant warning: 鈥淚 get no satisfaction in telling this story. But I want you to realize that the justice system in America is not what perhaps you think it is.鈥

He proceeded to detail the racial discrimination he suffered from his wrongful arrest through his death penalty sentence and onwards, not only from the arresting officers and the district attorney, but also from his court-appointed lawyer, who did not obtain sufficient testimony to disprove the state鈥檚 claim that Hinton used his mother鈥檚 revolver to commit the murders.

With humor and humility, Hinton also shared stories from the 30 years he spent on Alabama鈥檚 death row, including his efforts to mentally escape his circumstances by imagining dinners with Queen Elizabeth, playing for the New York Yankees, and marriages to famous actresses. He also started a book club with other death row inmates, including a former KKK member with whom he formed an indelible bond.

Hinton鈥檚 legal journey to his eventual release was far from smooth. As the Equal Justice Initiative took interest in his case, a lawyer approached him with a chance to secure a life sentence without parole. While appreciative of the work, Hinton refused. 鈥淢y mother told me that if I was man enough to bend down and pick up a rock, and if I was man enough to throw that rock, I should be man enough to say I threw that rock,鈥 Hinton explained. 鈥淚 said this is one rock I didn’t throw. And therefore, I could never plead guilty.鈥

Hinton then wrote to Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, to ask for his personal help with the case. Hinton urged the famous civil rights attorney to be mindful of the racial dynamics of Alabama, securing ballistics experts who were Southern white men for the purpose of convincing Alabama judges and juries.

鈥淗ere I am fighting for my life, and I got to worry about what race, what gender a person has to be in order to help me,鈥 Hinton said.

The experts that Stevenson tapped confirmed that Hinton鈥檚 mother鈥檚 revolver didn鈥檛 come close to matching the weapon used in the murders, yet the case still faced resistance in getting a retrial. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually reversed the lower courts and a new trial was granted, where forensics experts were unable to match the crime-scene bullets to Hinton鈥檚 mother鈥檚 gun. Even then, it was years before the charges were dropped and Hinton was released in April of 2015.

鈥淚 want you to know tonight that I forgave the men who got together and did me that way,鈥 Hinton said. 鈥淚 didn鈥檛 forgive those men so they can sleep good at night; I forgave those men so I can sleep good at night.鈥

Hinton concluded with a call to action for the 91短视频 students in attendance.

鈥淚’m challenging you young people to stand up and become politicians, and change the system for all of us to have an equal and fair chance to be represented,鈥 Hinton said. 鈥淚 challenge you young men and young women, that when you’re able to go and vote, to not pass it up, and to go vote and bring change.鈥

Group of people posing for a photo with a man in a suit standing front and center.
Anthony Ray Hinton met with 91短视频 Honors students before his talk at the Watkins Lecture Series.

Following Hinton鈥檚 remarks, 91短视频 sociology professor Sarah Cribbs, who also serves as the director of 91短视频鈥檚 Black studies program and co-director of the Honors program, moderated a Q&A session that featured questions from the audience and Honors students, who read The Sun Does Shine as their summer common read.

Asked for one message he wanted readers to take away from his book, Hinton said firmly: 鈥淏eing hopeful. I just believe that when you have hope, there’s nothing that you can鈥檛 achieve.鈥

91短视频鈥檚 Watkins Lecture Series

The Watkins Lecture Series was established in 1999 by Marion Watkins Herget and Dr. George D. Watkins 鈥44 and is named in honor of their parents, who owned and operated the Herald-Progress newspaper. The series brings together the Town of Ashland and 91短视频 communities鈥攖wo entities important to the Watkins family.

At Thursday night鈥檚 event, Dr. George Watkins received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan award. The award, one of the highest honors in higher education, celebrates a humble service to others鈥攕ervice that goes beyond self-interest, someone who spends themselves in the interest of mankind. Dr Watkins was recognized for a distinguished career at Lehigh University, a commitment to the arts and community, and for envisioning and supporting the opportunity for the central Virginia region to hear from powerful and thought-provoking speakers.

At the age of 99, Dr. Watkins has attended all 13 Watkins Lectures, listening from a seat in the front row. The audience celebrated his upcoming 100th birthday by singing to him at the event.

The Watkins鈥 gift has provided lecture attendees the opportunity to hear from a host of notable speakers, including Bill Bryson, Soledad O鈥橞rien, Garrison Keillor, Ari Shapiro, Nina Totenberg, James Carville, Julian Bond, Bob Woodward, David Gergen, and Rubin 鈥淗urricane鈥 Carter.