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Alabama: US Supreme Court Stays Tommy Arthur's Execution

Tommy Arthur
Tommy Arthur
The U.S. Supreme Court has stopped the execution of an Alabama inmate convicted in a 1982 murder-for-hire.

Five justices voted to grant the stay late Thursday night for inmate Tommy Arthur as the high court considers whether to review Arthur's appeals. 

The decision was handed down about an hour before Arthur's death warrant expired.

Seventy-four-year-old Arthur had been scheduled to be executed Thursday evening by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

He was convicted of killing Troy Wicker. Police on Feb. 1, 1982, found Wicker shot to death in bed in his Muscle Shoals home.

Wicker's wife initially said she had been raped and an intruder killed her husband. She later testified that she had sex with Arthur and promised him $10,000 to kill her husband.

The Supreme Court said the stay will expire if it declines to take up Arthur's case.

Source: ABC News, November 4, 2016

Supreme Court stays execution Thursday night of Alabama inmate scheduled to die by lethal injection

This marked the seventh time that Thomas D. Arthur — who was convicted of murder and is the second-oldest inmate on Alabama’s death row — had faced an execution date that was called off, according to the office of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.

Arthur’s execution was scheduled for Thursday evening, but the uncertainty stretched into the night as officials in Alabama waited for the Supreme Court to consider his appeals.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — the Supreme Court justice assigned to the 11th Circuit, which includes Alabama — said in an order shortly before 10:30 p.m. that he was halting the execution until he or the other justices issued another order.

Thomas referred the case to the full court, and shortly before midnight, the justices issued an order granting Arthur’s stay request. The order included a statement from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. explaining that while he did not believe this case merited a review from the Supreme Court, he had decided to vote for a stay anyway as a courtesy to his colleagues.

Roberts wrote that four of the other justices had voted in favor of staying the execution.

“To afford them the opportunity to more fully consider the suitability of this case for review, including these circumstances, I vote to grant the stay as a courtesy,” he wrote. Roberts said Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito would have rejected the request; he did not explain why an eighth justice was not involved in the vote.

According to the court’s order, Arthur’s stay request would remain granted until the justices decide whether to consider the case. If they decide against it, the stay will be terminated.

“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,” Suhana S. Han, an attorney for Arthur, said in a statement.

In appeals filed Thursday, Arthur’s attorneys argued that Alabama’s “deficient lethal injection protocol” would have had “torturous effects,” pointing to the state’s planned use of the sedative midazolam, which has been used in at least three executions that went awry. Last year, the Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s execution protocol in a case that hinged in part on that sedative.

Arthur’s court filings also argued that the state should execute him by firing squad, arguing that “execution by firing squad, if implemented properly, would result in a substantially lesser risk of harm” than the proposed lethal injection method.

Strange’s office, in its response, noted that under Alabama state law, the Department of Corrections is only allowed to carry out executions by injection and electrocution.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Washington Post, Mark Berman, November 4, 2016

Tommy Arthur avoids execution 7th time: Supreme Court issues stay in Alabama murder-for-hire

Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur, who one victim advocate already referred to as "Houdini" for escaping execution 6 times, on Thursday had his execution postponed for the 7th time in 15 years.

The execution was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court officially at 10:55 p.m., a prison spokesman said. "There will be no execution tonight," said Alabama prison spokesman Bob Horton.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office had notified the prison system of the stay, Horton said.

The stay will remain in place until the court decides whether it will grant agree to review Arthur's appeal, according to the SCOTUS order. If they don't, then the stay automatically is removed and Alabama would be free to set another execution date. Two justices, Thomas and Alito, stated they would not have granted the stay.

Four of the justices were in favor and the Chief Justice stated he didn't favor a stay or review but agreed out of courtesy.

Attorney General Luther Strange criticized the decision to halt the execution.

"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," Strange said.

SCOTUS had twice delayed the execution Thursday night.

An order shortly before 9:30 p.m. Thursday signed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had been a temporary order staying the execution, Horton said. At that time prison officials were still waiting to see if the court ruled again and they could go forward with the execution before midnight.

If the court had ruled before midnight and denied the stay then it would have possible the execution could go forward, Horton said.

"We're in a holding pattern ... We're going to continue to wait for the Supreme Court," Horton said at that time.

Earlier Thursday evening, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn agreed to a 2-hour delay of the scheduled 6 p.m. execution so the Supreme Court could review the split 11th Circuit decision, said Horton.

In that 2-1 decision, 11th Circuit decision Circuit Judge Charles Wilson said the execution should have been stayed in order for Arthur's appeals on his lethal injection challenge.

"Due to the scarcity of and secrecy surrounding lethal injection drugs, it is all but impossible for a prisoner to set forth a viable lethal-injection-based alternative," Wilson wrote in his dissent in Wednesday's opinion. "The Majority's decision therefore checkmates countless Alabama and Florida prisoners, nullifying their constitutional right to a humane execution."

Wilson also stated that the majority in the ruling - Hull and Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus - determines that Arthur's suggestion of a firing squad was not feasible and readily implemented because Alabama law does not authorize the firing squad.

"Arthur should be permitted to amend his complaint to include the firing squad as an execution alternative to Alabama's lethal injection protocol. The firing squad is a potentially viable alternative, and Arthur may be entitled to relief under Baze and Glossip (U.S. Supreme Court ruling) based on that method of execution," Wilson wrote.

Arthur remained defiant Thursday as he waited to see if the U.S. Supreme Court would stay his execution at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

Arthur's attorneys Wednesday night filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a stay after the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to block the execution.

Arthur on Thursday told AL.com in a telephone interview he was hopeful this execution would be stayed.

"We've still got wiggle room," Arthur said this afternoon. "We're not done yet."

Asked if he accepted the reality he might not avoid today's execution, Arthur replied: "All I can do is sit here and hate it."

Arthur said he had no visitors Thursday although his lawyers had just arrived at the prison when he spoke to AL.com. Arthur said he planned to make a final statement if he was executed.

Arthur was convicted at 3 trials and sentenced to death each time for the 1982 murder-for-hire shooting death of Troy Wicker, of Muscle Shoals.

At the time of the Wicker murder, Arthur was serving at a Decatur work release center for a conviction in the 1977 murder of his sister-in-law in Marion County.

Arthur was hired by Wicker's wife, Judy, with whom he was having a romantic relationship. Judy Wicker testified at one trial that she paid Arthur $10,000 of the insurance money. Wicker was killed with 1 shot through the right eye as he slept.

Arthur maintains his innocence.

On Wednesday, both the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied requests by Arthur's attorneys to have the execution stayed. Each decision had 1 dissent.

Had Arthur been executed, it would have been the 2nd execution in Alabama this year.

When it denied Arthur's stay the U.S. 11th also affirmed U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins' ruling that dismissed Arthur's lawsuit challenging the lethal injection drug combination and the consciousness test procedure during the execution. Arthur had claimed that the correctional officers conducting the execution did not - or did not do it properly - perform the "pinch test" on the condemned inmate's left arm to make sure he was sedated before the 2nd 2 drugs were administered.

Watkins this week also tossed out similar claims filed by a group of other death row inmates.

Arthur's petition to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a stay centers on the constitutionality of Alabama's death penalty sentencing scheme.

The petition states that SCOTUS should grant the stay and decide whether Alabama's death sentencing scheme is unconstitutional in light of the SCOTUS ruling in January in the case Hurst v. Florida. In that ruling the court found Florida's death sentencing law unconstitutional. Alabama's law is similar to Florida's law, Arthur's attorneys argue.

"This court's decision in Hurst invalidates Alabama's death sentencing scheme," according to Arthur's petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. "The Alabama Supreme Court refused to recognize the validity of Hurst, both as it applies generally to Alabama and specifically to Mr. Arthur. This court should stay Mr. Arthur's scheduled execution and resolve the important constitutional issues raised by Mr. Arthur's petition for certiorari (review)."

Alabama has executed 209 inmates since the state switched from hanging to electrocution in 1927. Many offered final words, some contrite, some defiant to the end. Some chose the traditional last meal, while others snacked from vending machines.

District attorneys and Attorney General Strange have said Alabama's law is not the same as Florida's former law. They have said the U.S. Supreme Court held in the Florida case that a jury, not the judge, must find the aggravating factor in order to make someone eligible for the death penalty. Alabama's system, however, already required the jury to do just that in either the guilt or sentencing phase, they said.

Once a jury has unanimously made the factual determination that a defendant meets the criteria to be eligible for the death penalty, the judge may make the legal determination of whether to impose it or not, the attorney general has stated.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the spring sent three death sentence cases back to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to review in light of its decision in Hurst v. Florida. While the state appeals court hasn't ruled on those 3 cases, it and the Alabama Supreme Court have both ruled the state's capital murder sentencing scheme constitutional in other cases since that time.

Vernon Madison, one of Alabama's longest-serving death row inmates, had his execution stayed by the 11th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court the day of the execution in May.

Madison was convicted in the April 1985 slaying of Mobile police Cpl. Julius Schulte. Madison has claimed that he is mentally incompetent to be executed.

Alabama also has set another execution for Dec. 8 for another death row inmate, Ronald Bert Smith, who was convicted in Madison County in the November 1994 slaying of Circle C convenience store clerk Casey Wilson during a robbery.

Source: al.com, November 4, 2016

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