Today's Reading

I walked up to the witness stand and turned around and looked out over the courtroom. I was happy to be able to see my mom and face her eye to eye. She smiled at me, and I could feel my heart tighten. God, how I was going to miss her. No matter how big her smile, I knew she was scared, and all this legal mumbo jumbo might as well have been a foreign language. When she had left after that last visit, it had made her smile to hear me say I would be home soon sitting at our table and eating one of her Sunday afternoon cakes. She could bake a cake so good it would make the devil himself confess his sins and beg for mercy just to have a bite. Sometimes, late at night, I would close my eyes and see her red velvet cake with buttercream frosting so clearly in my mind, I swear I could actually smell all that butter and sugar. My imagination has always been both a blessing and a curse. It helped me get through some rough times growing up, but it had also gotten me into some trouble. Nothing like the trouble I was in now.

Every day since they had arrested me, I had thought, 'Today will be the day. They'll know I was at work. They'll find the guy that really did it. Somebody will believe me.'

It was all some bad dream that I couldn't wake up from.

I smiled back at my mom, and then I looked over at McGregor. He had been glaring at me for two weeks. It was a famous tactic of his. Stare at the defendant until he cowers. Show him who's the alpha dog. Well, I wasn't a dog, and I wasn't about to cower. On the inside, I was scared to death. I wanted to go home. I didn't want to die. But on the outside, I had to be strong. For my mom. For my friends. Martin Luther King once said, "A man can't ride you unless your back is bent." So I sat with my back as straight as possible in that courtroom, and when McGregor stared at me, I straightened my back even more and stared right into his eyes. He was trying to ride me, all right, trying to kill me. And I wasn't going to make it any easier for him, or for any of them, than it already was.

"Judge," my attorney began, "let me make aware to the court that Mr. Hinton has requested the opportunity to testify. I have no particular idea of the subject matter of testimony, so there's no way of questioning him. I don't see how it could make any difference if he just testifies."

He didn't know the subject matter? The subject matter was this court just convicted me of two cold-blooded murders without any evidence. The subject matter is my attorney just let them find me guilty of two capital offenses based on a third attempted murder that happened while I was at work. The subject matter was my attorney hired a ballistics expert who could hardly see and who was crucified on the stand. The subject matter was the State of Alabama wanted to strap me to Yellow Mama and murder me for crimes I didn't commit. The subject matter was somebody was trying to kill me and I was fighting for my life. That was the subject matter.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and said the same prayer I had prayed in my head a thousand times. Dear God, let them know the truth of things. Let them see into my mind and my heart and find the truth. Bless the judge. Bless the DA. Bless the victims' families who are in pain. Dear God, let there be justice. Real justice.

"First of all, I did not kill anybody. It is important to me that the families know this. Believe this. I wouldn't want anyone to take the life of someone I loved. I couldn't even imagine that pain. I know what it is like not to have a father, to be brought up with that missing in your life, and I wouldn't cause it to happen for anyone. There is a man up above who knows I didn't do it, and one day, I may not be here, but he's going to show you that I didn't do it. I wouldn't dare ever think about killing, because I can't give a life and, therefore, I don't have a right to take a life."

I could hear my voice shaking a little, so I took another deep breath, and I looked directly at the widow of John Davidson. "And if you . . . if the family's satisfied that they've got the right man, I'm sorry, but if you really want your husband's killer to be brought to justice, get on your knees and pray to God about it, because I didn't do it."

I looked up at Judge Garrett. "Do with me what seems good to you, but as sure as you put me to death, you bring blood upon yourself and upon your hands. I love all people. I've never been prejudiced in my life. I went to school and got along with everybody, never been in a fight. I'm not a violent person."

My mom was nodding. Smiling at me like I was in a school play or giving a recital. I kept going. "I've been praying to God for the DA, for this judge, and especially for the victims. You got to give an account for what you done, and it don't matter to me, because if I can recall, Jesus was prosecuted, accused falsely for things he didn't do, and all he did was try to love and save this world, and he died and suffered. If I have to die for something I didn't do, so be it. My life is not in this judge's hands. My life is not in your hands, but it's in God's hands."

I spoke to the bailiffs who had just lied on the stand. I told them that I would pray for the Lord to forgive them. Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

"You all sent an innocent man to prison. You kept an innocent man locked up for two years, and I begged, I pleaded with you to give me anything that you believe in. Truth serum, hypnosis, anything. I have nothing to hide."

I saw McGregor shake his head and roll his eyes and then give a half snort, half laugh.

This excerpt ends on page 13 of the hardcover edition.
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