Anthony Ray Hinton

Jefferson County, Alabama
Date of Crimes: 1985

Anthony Ray Hinton was sentenced to death for the murders of two restaurant managers. The victims were John Davidson, an assistant manager at a Mrs. Winner's Chicken & Biscuits restaurant in Southside Birmingham and Thomas Vason, an assistant manager at a Captain D's restaurant on First Avenue North in Woodlawn. The managers were shot during robberies in February and July 1985. In a third robbery at Quincy's steakhouse in Bessemer, the manager, Sidney Smotherman, was shot, but survived. Smotherman subsequently identified Hinton as his assailant. Hinton was never charged for this robbery, but he was convicted of the murders in the first two robberies because the gun used in the third robbery was purportedly the same weapon as that used in the first two robberies. Similar restaurant robberies occurred in the area after Hinton's arrest.

Hinton had an alibi for the third robbery. On the night of the murder he clocked in at work at Bruno's warehouse in Ensley at 12:00 a.m. and received a work assignment 10 minutes later. According to the prosecution, he left work, drove 15 miles to Bessemer where he followed Smotherman leaving a restaurant at 12:14 a.m. to go to a nearby Food World. At Food World, Smotherman paid for his groceries at 12:26 a.m. Hinton then bumped Smotherman's car after Smotherman left the store and forced Smotherman to return to his restaurant. At the restaurant Hinton purportedly robbed and shot Smotherman, but made it back to work by 12:40 a.m. at which time he was seen by a supervisor.

Hinton had no history of violent crime. Smotherman told police his assailant drove a Porsche, but Hinton drove a Mercedes. At trial the prosecution argued that ballistics evidence showed that a gun which Hinton had access to was used in all three robberies. This gun was owned by Hinton's mother. In rebuttal, Andrew Payne, a retired engineer hired by the defense testified that the six bullets used in the three robberies could not be matched to any gun. The prosecution brought out that Payne was blind in one eye and did not know how to operate the microscope used to examine the bullets. It ridiculed him as a “one-eyed charlatan.” It should be noted that the compensation Alabama paid to Hinton's court appointed counsel was capped at $1000, and counsel did not have funds to hire a more compelling gun expert. Payne was paid $500. Hinton's counsel had told the trial judge he didn't believe Payne was a qualified expert, but he couldn't afford a better one.

Since Alabama provides no legal assistance to death-row prisoners, Hinton was unable to appeal his conviction until years later in 1999, when he secured the volunteer assistance of Equal Justice Initiative. At a hearing in 2002 before the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, Hinton's defense argued that Hinton should get a new trial because his gun expert, Andrew Payne, was incompetent. Despite calling Payne a “charlatan” and “no expert at all” at trial, the state reversed its position and maintained that Payne was both competent and qualified. The court agreed with the state.

Also at the hearing, three of the country's top gun experts testified they had examined the state's evidence and concluded that the crime scene bullets could not be matched to the gun owned by Hinton's mother and that the state had erred in making this claim. The experts had offered to meet with the former state forensics department director who testified at Hinton's trial to see if they could resolve their differences. Although such a meeting is required by the ethical rules of the Association of Firearm and Toolmark Examiners, the experts were rebuffed.

Additional evidence was presented at the hearing that the state had withheld evidence that would have helped to prove Hinton's innocence and that it pressured witnesses to give false statements implicating Hinton. The court did not rule on the evidence of innocence for two and a half years and then signed an order prepared by the state denying relief to Hinton in part because the evidence of innocence was presented “too late.”

In 2008 the Alabama Supreme Court ordered Hinton's trial court to determine whether Hinton had inadequate counsel due to questions surrounding the qualifications of Hinton's gun expert. Should the trial court find that the gun expert was incompetent, Hinton likely will get a new trial.  [1/09]


Reference:  Equal Justice Initiative

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Alabama Cases