Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 897
Anthony Ray Hinton
Anthony Ray Hinton is the author of the memoir The Sun Does Shine. He was arrested in 1985 for a crime he did not commit: shooting and killing two restaurant workers. From his arrest to his conviction, Hinton was the subject of racism—most notably from a police officer who told him he would be found guilty because the prosecution, judge, and jury would all be white. Hinton was also unable to pay for an attorney and was assigned to Sheldon Perhacs, who lost the trial. Hinton’s status and race contributed more to his conviction than his innocence.
When Hinton was sent to Death Row, it took him a long time to get to know other inmates. Over time, however, he started to see them outside the context of their crimes, viewing them first as people and then as friends. This made it even more horrifying every time one of them was executed—it was more like murder than justice, and Hinton knew that the same thing would eventually happen to him. He writes vividly about this experience and about the daydreams with which he passed the time. In spite of the horrible experiences Hinton recounts, however, his writing reveals a strong faith in God, a sense of humor, and a deep-seated compassion for others.
Bryan Stevenson, who wrote the forward to The Sun Does Shine, was Hinton’s lawyer for the better part of twenty years. Stevenson was well known on Death Row for his hand in preventing an innocent man’s execution. When Hinton first met another of his lawyers, Santha Sonenberg, he asked her how she became his attorney and wondered if his friend Lester Bailey had called her on his behalf. She replies, “Bryan Stevenson sent me. He knows about everyone.” This adds to Stevenson’s reputation for being knowledgeable and caring—and the most promising lawyer Hinton had heard about up until this point.
Stevenson was able to live up to his reputation. In contrast to Hinton’s first lawyer, Sheldon Perhacs, Hinton hired not one but three experts in forensics who were able to determine that Hinton’s weapon couldn’t be tied to any of the bullets found at the scene. As a result of Stevenson’s work, the prosecution was no longer convinced it could successfully continue the trial, and they dropped the charges against Hinton. Stevenson remains close to Hinton and continues to work for social justice.
Lester Bailey was Hinton’s support system during the thirty years Hinton spent in prison. During that time, Lester insisted on talking to Hinton on the phone at least once a week and visiting him as often as possible. For a time, the only people Hinton would agree to see were his mother (Buhlar Hinton) and Lester.
Sheldon Perhacs is one of a string of lawyers who represented Hinton in court; he was assigned to represent Hinton in his original trial, which he lost. Perhacs’s most notable moment was when he hired a cheap forensics expert, Payne, whose testimony fell through. Hinton was unable to afford another lawyer, so he stuck with Perhacs for as long as he could. The events surrounding Perhacs and that first trial are a good example of what Hinton was really up against: racism, poverty, and the burden of proving his innocence in a system that wasn’t working.
Payne is a forensics expert who was called on to examine the ballistic evidence from the scene and testify about it in court during Hinton’s first trial. While giving his testimony, he admitted that he hadn’t been familiar with the...
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kind of microscope that was in the lab and that he hadn’t been able to take a good look at the bullets. When the prosecution pressed him on this, Payne admitted to being blind in one eye. This opened up a separate issue as to his competency as a forensics expert; it also led Hinton to realize that being innocent and being able to prove innocence are two different things.
Jimmy Dill was a former nursing student who became an addict and killed someone for drugs. According to Hinton, he “had a kindness about him that made it hard to imagine him shooting someone in the back of the head.” Hinton mentions Dill in his discussion of the book club they formed—Dill wanted to read To Kill a Mockingbird, and Hinton loaned it to him. The book club lifted the spirits of the inmates, including Dill, who looked forward both to reading and to the impromptu discussions of the book that followed. Dill was also instrumental in helping Hinton when he found out about his mother’s death. Hinton writes that when Dill’s execution was scheduled, the book club stopped.
Although Wayne Ritter is a minor character—Hinton says he never actually met him—he had a major impact on Hinton when he was executed. Ritter was executed on August 28, 1987, and Hinton reports that he couldn’t stop thinking about it for months afterward. It initiated intense fear and uncertainty for Hinton: Did Ritter know when he would die? What did it feel like? Was he even guilty? In a way, knowing so little about Ritter meant that he had an even larger impact on Hinton than some of the people Hinton did know.