Wednesday 21 February 2018

Death row inmate gets seventh stay of execution

People stage a candlelight vigil for convicted murderer Tommy Arthur on the steps of the Alabama capitol building in Montgomery (The Montgomery Advertiser/AP)
People stage a candlelight vigil for convicted murderer Tommy Arthur on the steps of the Alabama capitol building in Montgomery (The Montgomery Advertiser/AP)

The US Supreme Court has halted the execution of an Alabama man convicted of a 1982 murder-for-hire arrangement for the seventh time.

Five justices voted to grant the stay for Tommy Arthur, 74, as the nation's top court considered whether to to take up his challenge to Alabama's death penalty procedure.

The decision was handed down about an hour before Arthur's death warrant expired on Thursday night, when he was due be executed by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

"We are greatly relieved by the Supreme Court's decision granting a stay and now hope for the opportunity to present the merits of Mr Arthur's claims to the court," Arthur's attorney Suhana Han said.

This is the seventh time that Arthur, who has waged a lengthy legal battle over his conviction and the constitutionality of the death penalty, has received a reprieve from an execution date, a track record that has frustrated the state attorney general's office and victims' advocacy groups.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote on Thursday that he did not think the case merited a stay, but voted to grant it as a courtesy to the four justices who wanted to "more fully consider the suitability of this case for review". The execution stay will expire if the court does not take up Arthur's case.

The attorney general's office had unsuccessfully urged the court to let the execution go forward and expressed disappointment at the decision.

"With all due respect to the Supreme Court, tonight's order undermines the rule of law. While I agree with Chief Justice Roberts that 'this case does not merit the Court's review', in my view, there is no 'courtesy' in voting to deny justice to the victims of a notorious and cold-blooded killer," Alabama attorney general Luther Strange said.

On February 1 1982, police found Troy Wicker shot dead through the eye in his bed. Wicker's wife initially claimed she had been raped and an intruder killed her husband, but later said she had sex with Arthur and promised him 10,000 dollars (£8,000) to kill her husband.

Judy Wicker served 10 years in prison for her part in the killing.

At the time of Mr Wicker's death, Arthur was in a prison work-release programme after being convicted of the 1977 murder of his sister-in-law.

Juries twice convicted Arthur, but those convictions were overturned on appeal. During his third trial in 1991, Arthur ignored the advice of his lawyers and asked the jury to sentence him to death. He said at the time that he did not have a death wish, but it was a way of opening more avenues of appeal.

Arthur, who maintains his innocence, has also sent Alabama governor Robert Bentley a four-page handwritten letter requesting a stay of execution, arguing he had never had a fair trial and that potential DNA evidence in the case had not been reviewed. Mr Bentley did not intervene in the case.

"I'm not guilty and did not have a fair trial in 1991," Arthur wrote.


Press Association

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