BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Reuters) - Anthony Ray Hinton walked out of an Alabama jail a free man on Friday after almost 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
Greeted by well-wishers with cries of "Praise God" and a crowd of photographers and reporters, Hinton dabbed away tears and said: "For all of you out there snapping pictures of me, I want you to know there is a Lord.
"For all who say they believe in justice, this is the case that proves it is true," the 58-year-old Hinton said.
Hinton was convicted of the 1985 slayings of two fast-food managers, but new testing did not match crime scene bullets to the gun found at his home.
His case was picked up in 1998 by the Equal Justice Initiative, which tried for more than a decade to get the bullets re-tested.
The U.S. Supreme Court threw out his conviction last year, and prosecutors decided not to retry him for the killings.
Among those waiting outside the Jefferson County jail was Hinton's lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
"How wonderful it is that freedom is finally back for this man," he said. "He was convicted because he was poor."
A former day laborer, Hinton plans to stay with a childhood friend upon release, Stevenson said. His mother died while he was in prison and he has no other family in the area.
Hinton spent most of the time in a solitary death row cell, said Stevenson.
In throwing out his conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that Hinton had been inadequately represented at trial. The Supreme Court ruling found the court-appointed attorney used as a witness a firearms expert he knew to be incompetent.
Stevenson also blamed the conviction, and the length of time it took to free Hinton, on prosecutorial misconduct and the indifference of judges.
"We gave the prosecutors every opportunity to do the right thing. They just would not do it," he said.
"I've never represented anyone on death row who had more courage than Mr. Hinton," he added.
Hinton was linked to the murders by a victim in a third fast-food shooting who identified him as the shooter.
But when the third shooting occurred, Hinton was working in a locked warehouse about 15 miles (24 km) away, the Equal Justice Initiative said.
His boss and other employees vouched that he could not have committed the crime.