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US man freed after 30 years on death row

A man who spent 30 years on death row in the US state of Alabama for crimes he did not commit has been released. The case spotlights failings in the US justice system.

The man, Anthony Ray Hinton, 58, walked free from court on Friday after ballistics evidence used against him in his trial in 1986 was discredited.

He was greeted by well-wishers, friends and relatives as he came out of Jefferson County Courthouse a day after all charges against him had been dismissed.

"Sun do shine," Hinton said, adding: "They had every intention of executing me for something I didn't do... I shouldn't have sat on death row for 30 years."

Hinton was just 29 when he was arrested for the murder of two restaurant managers during armed robberies in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1985.

A restaurant manager who survived another holdup later that same year identified Hinton as the suspect, although Hinton said he had been at work 15 miles (24 kilometers) away at the time of the robbery - an alibi corroborated by a manager and colleagues.

Doubtful evidence

At Hinton's trial in December 1986, state technicians said bullets recovered from the crime scene were fired from a gun later recovered from Hinton's mother. However, tests carried out in 1999 by independent experts hired by Alabama's Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) showed that the bullets used in the robberies could not be conclusively proven to have been fired from the gun, or even from one and the same gun.

EJI then tried for years to persuade the state of Alabama to reexamine the ballistics evidence in the light of these later findings. However, the evidence was not reviewed by a court until this week.

The US Supreme Court ruled last year that Hinton's defense in his trial had been "constitutionally deficient," as the expert hired by his lawyer had not been properly qualified to challenge the ballistics evidence.

Judicial failings

EJI chief attorney Bryan Stevenson said the case had highlighted problems with the US judicial system, with Hinton, who is black, being in part the victim of racial bias.

"Race, poverty, inadequate legal indifference to innocence conspired to create a textbook example of injustice," Stevenson said.

"We have a system that doesn't do the right thing when the right thing is apparent. Prosecutors should have done these tests years ago," he added.

EJI

is a US non-profit organization# dedicated to giving legal help to those who have inadequate funds for a proper defense or who have been imprisoned unfairly.

tj/lw (AFP, AP)

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