Innocent on death row

Two memoirs by men who endured decades of criminal injustice before being exonerated

In 2006, the late U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, a fierce defender of capital punishment, scoffed at the idea that innocent Americans were ever executed. “If such an event had occurred in recent years,” he argued in Kansas v. Marsh, “we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”

When Scalia wrote those words, Anthony Ray Hinton and Anthony Graves were on death row, condemned for crimes they did not commit. Nobody was shouting their names from the rooftops, though a few dedicated attorneys, convinced of their innocence, were struggling to get their convictions overturned. Graves, a Texan, had already been incarcerated for more than 13 years; Hinton, from Alabama, had al­ready spent more than 20 years in prison.

The two Anthonys, both African American, led remarkably similar lives right up to the moment police officers showed up at their homes and took them into custody. Brought up in the rural South by loving, no-nonsense mothers, both men were baseball fans: as a teenager, Hinton hoped for an athletic scholarship, while Graves dreamed of playing for the Houston Astros. Both men enjoyed female companionship: Hinton was thinking about marrying and starting a family; Graves already had three sons. Both men had prior convictions: at age 27, Hinton had voluntarily turned himself in for stealing a car and served several months in a work-release program; at age 22, Graves had voluntarily turned himself in for selling $40 worth of marijuana and served six months in jail. Both men had stayed out of trouble since then. They did not know why the police were handcuffing them and taking them to the station for questioning.