At a Glance
Coauthored by Laura Love Hardin, Anthony Ray Hinton's memoir offers a compelling account of his unjust conviction, thirty years as an inmate of Alabama’s Holman State Prison, and eventual release in 2015. In relating his experience with the criminal justice system, Hinton contends that his story is not unique: he is just one of thousands of wrongfully imprisoned individuals, a uniquely American injustice that has clear racial and class dimensions.
The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row is a memoir by Anthony Ray Hinton recounting his wrongful conviction of capital murder and the death sentence that resulted from the conviction. Hinton's sentence resulted in thirty years of solitary confinement at Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama as he awaited death by electric chair. In the memoir, Hinton recounts both his time in prison and his time as a child and young man. Hinton's mother raised Hinton and his nine older siblings by herself while confronting poverty and racism in rural Alabama. Recurring motifs in the memoir include resilience, hope, faith, and our shared basic humanity against the backdrop of even the worst possible circumstances. The question the book asks on several occasions is whether there is a true price for a person’s life—and, in particular, whether the death penalty should still exist in the United States.
The memoir opens with a foreword by Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who helped Hinton in his release from prison almost thirty years after his initial conviction. (Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1989, four years after Hinton's initial trial.) He writes that in 1985, Ray Hinton was twenty-nine and charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of two restaurant employees in Birmingham. He was arrested while working in his mother's back garden. The two counts of capital murder that he was charged with were connected to a series of other fatal armed robberies at nearby restaurants. On the night that the two restaurant managers were murdered, a third was also shot—and survived. The third victim's misidentification of Hinton as the assailant helped the prosecution in destroying Hinton's defense.
Despite the fact that the prosecution only had two pieces of evidence—an unreliable witness and a .38 revolver in Hinton's mother's house that had clearly not been fired in years (though the prosecution claimed to have ballistics evidence tying it to the crime)—Hinton was charged with two counts of capital murder.
Stevenson presents the reader with the facts of the case and asks a central question: How did this happen? The two murders occurred while Hinton was working in a locked warehouse, and two witnesses (a security guard and his warehouse manager) confirmed that he was there. Furthermore, neither of Hinton's cars bore any resemblance to the murderer's. Stevenson writes that Hinton's court-appointed attorney was uncaring and incompetent in his duties, even racially biased, and that the jury did not trust the information presented by the witnesses on Hinton's behalf. It was systemic racism and the impacts of poverty, Stevenson contends, that destroyed any chance for an impartial trial. Ultimately, Hinton was convicted and sentenced to death not for the murders, but for the crime of being poor and black in Alabama.
At this point, Stevenson's foreword ends, and the rest of the book is told from Hinton's point of view. Hinton begins by recounting how he arrived in his holding cell, where he awaited his final sentencing in 1986. Despite holding out hope that the judge will realize his innocence, Hinton is sentenced to death by electrocution. The narrative shifts again here to explore Hinton's youth.
Racism serves as a continuous backdrop to Hinton's reminiscences of his life. Hinton writes that he was the youngest of ten children, all of whom his mother had to raise by herself after his father left the family due to...
(The entire section is 2,049 words.)