30-Year Alabama Death Row Inmate 'Going Home' After New Bullet Tests

"I don't believe it," he said.

ByABC News
April 3, 2015, 1:27 PM

— -- An Alabama man walked free this morning after serving 30 years on death row, thanks partly to a re-examination of bullets found at the crime scene.

Ray Hinton, 58, was released from jail at 9:30 a.m. today, a member of Jefferson County Judge Laura Petro's staff confirmed to ABC News.

Judge Petro had ordered his release, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.

Today was a "joyous event," said Hinton's attorney Bryan Stevenson, "although a tragic one, as well."

Hinton was convicted in 1985 of two murders in Birmingham, according to The Associated Press, largely based on evidence from bullets at the crime scene. But new testing showed that the bullets couldn't be connected to Hinton, the AP reported.

Stevenson, an attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative, the group that helped win his release, said the organization has been involved in Hinton's case since 1999.

The group conducted testing on the weapon "the state said was sole evidence of finding him guilty of these murders," Stevenson told ABC News today, and "the testing revealed that the Hinton weapon was not used in these crimes."

But for 15 years, Stevenson claimed, the state "refused to do the testing."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Hinton had inadequate counsel and sent the case back for a second trial, the AP reported, and then prosecutors moved to dismiss the case after the bullet testing.

New bullet testing results came back this Wednesday night, Stevenson said, and "the state acknowledged Mr. Hinton would not be accused of these crimes."

Stevenson called his client Wednesday night to tell him the good news.

Stevenson said he told Hinton, "You are going home."

"And he said, 'I don't believe it.' He was overjoyed."

"When you're locked down in a solitary cell for 30 years... with the state trying to execute you... to be told you're finally going home, is a kind of joy that's hard to imagine," Stevenson said.

At this morning's release, Hinton, who is not giving interviews, wore a suit for the first time in 30 years, Stevenson said.

After he signed the release papers, "they gave him his meager possessions," Stevenson recalled: a pair of sneakers, a belt and a couple of books.

Then they walked out of the jail and met his family and friends.

"Now he's heading back to his home where he'll spend the weekend recovering," Stevenson said.

"He's going to take his time and just try to recover from the challenges of confinement," he added. "We'll meet next week and begin trying to sort out how to put his life back together again."

Hinton's release is "enormously gratifying," Stevenson said, but "it's also frustrating that so many years were taken away from him unnecessarily."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.