By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Wrongfully convicted of murder because of racism, a man who spent 30 years in jail says faith helped him survive.
At Christ Presbyterian Academy, Anthony Ray Hinton said he was arrested in 1985, released in 2015, and recently published “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row.”
“This book,” Hinton told nearly 3,000 people, “is the second best book ever written.”
Laughter and applause followed Hinton’s opening that led to sad truths about wrongheaded criminal justice which, in his case, was reversed largely because of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit in Montgomery, Ala.
Hinton’s book became a study text for students at CPA along Old Hickory Boulevard near Harpeth Hills Golf Course. “We have an interim program called Woven,” said Nate Morrow, CPA’s head of school. CPA teachers weave elements of Hinton’s story into lessons during English, history, math and Bible classes. Hinton exemplifies hope and forgiveness in the face of injustice, Morrow said. “Our entire high school student population was here,” he said Sept. 26. “We’re really challenging them to ook at how they can bring life into whatever area they’re going into.”
Christ Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Scott Sauls said, Hinton’s story is “very important.” Saul is “grateful” for Hinton’s “willingness to come … tell the truth and, hopefully, move the needle in ways that the needle needs to be moved … We have a system that is broken; that favors certain populations and disfavors others.” The criminal justice system “is certainly part of it.”
Hinton said a detective at his arrest said he’d be convicted because: he’s black; there’d be a white prosecutor, judge and jury; and a white man said “you shot him.” That was for his first arrest. Work place security pictures show Hinton working when the attempted robbery, kidnapping and murder happened elsewhere. Subsequently, he was: charged with killing two fast food employees; tried; convicted; sent to Holman Prison; and put on death row for 28 years.
He couldn’t escape physically, so he left spiritually, visiting Queen Elizabeth who served tea. After his release, he met the queen. While in prison, he “virtually” married Halle Berry and divorced her for Sandra Bullock.
His dreams were interrupted by attorneys who proved ballistic tests on the murder weapon don’t match a gun he mentioned before his arrest. The Supreme Court ruled he deserved another trial. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Laura Petro overturned Hinton’s conviction. Prosecutors dropped the case.
Two Birmingham fast food workers’ murders for which Hinton was blamed remain unsolved. Same for Franklin’s 1991 murder of Peggy Cox, 49, at Hardee’s on Murfreesboro Road. Hinton didn’t know about Cox, but said, “When I was locked up, they still had the crime at fast foods;” called them copycats. “We should find the person who did it, make sure we have hard evidence, and then lock them up.
“Victims’ families deserve to know the truth,” Hinton said.
Franklin Police Chief Deborah Faulkner agrees. Her department sought and won agreement from the Philadelphia-based Vidocq Society which helps solve cold cases.
“We need to learn things about our criminal justice system, about the legacy of racial bias in America and the way it can blind us to just and fair treatment of people,” Hinton’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson, says in the forward of Hinton’s book.
Hinton lives in Dora, Ala. nearly 20 miles northwest of Birmingham.
Christ Presbyterian Academy has 1,300 students. Ten percent are students of color. Christ Presbyterian Church’s membership is approximately 2,000. CPA opened in 1985, the year Hinton was arrested.