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Motion to dismiss: Decades-long death row stay ends for man

As singular, bizarre and flatly sad as life has been thus far for Anthony Ray Hinton, it wouldn't be accurate to say that no other person can readily identify with the sheer adversity that has befallen him: After all, 151 other people have also reportedly been released from death rows in prisons across the country just since 1973 because criminal justice authorities simply got it wrong.

Of course, exoneration and the ability to walk away from a death sentence most assuredly qualifies as a victory, but the price that Hinton paid for freedom -- he was released from confinement in an Alabama prison last Friday -- was unfathomably high.

A spokesperson for an advocacy group that fought long and hard for Hinton's release notes that, although Hinton still lives, he also died in a sense, with the state "trying to kill him every day" for decades.

Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, also offers up a number of other comments, including his view that Hinton's conviction for murder in two shooting deaths qualifies as a "case study" for what can go wrong in the criminal justice system.

The system, he says, "doesn't do the right thing when the right thing is apparent."

In Hinton's case, the ballistics evidence used to convict him was subsequently deemed infirm by three independent experts. Their reexamination of state evidence occurred following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year determining that Hinton had deficient representation during his trial and was entitled to a new hearing.

Stephenson decries the amount of time it took for the state to act. He says that the evidence exonerating Hinton was clear and that state authorities simply failed to act in good faith on it for years.

Thus, last Friday was a joyful day tempered by a deep and abiding sadness.

And, of course, Hinton's case, coupled with the above-cited information on death row exonerations of high numbers of other prisoners, likely causes many readers in North Carolina and elsewhere to ponder this question:

How many other persons are languishing behind bars in American prisons owing to faulty evidence?

Source: The Guardian, "Alabama man off death row after 28 years to jailers: You will answer to God," Associated Press (author uncited), April 4, 2015

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