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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Alabama executes Tommy Arthur

Tommy Arthur
Tommy Arthur
(CNN) Alabama executed death row inmate Tommy Arthur early Friday after a lengthy court battle that included multiple lethal injection delays.

Arthur, 75, was convicted in the 1982 murder-for-hire of romantic rival Troy Wicker.

The inmate, who was nicknamed the "Houdini" of death row because he'd had seven prior execution dates postponed, died by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility at Atmore.

The Supreme Court issued a temporary stay Thursday, then lifted it later that night, leading to his execution.

"No governor covets the responsibility of weighing the merits of life or death; but it is a burden I accept as part of my pledge to uphold the laws of this state," Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

"Three times Tommy Arthur was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Each time his case was reviewed thoroughly at every level of both our state and federal courts, and the appellate process has ensured that the rights of the accused were protected."

Phone access


Arthur's lawyers had filed motions arguing that Alabama's method of execution was cruel and unusual, and that the attorneys should have access to a cellphone while witnessing the execution.

Before the Supreme Court decision, stay requests had been rejected by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the governor.

Arthur's lawyers had asked Ivey to delay the execution so DNA evidence could be examined from the killing for which he was sentenced to die.

Two executions were stopped when Arthur's convictions were overturned. Arthur has appealed other execution orders by arguing the combination of lethal injection drugs would cause him physical pain because of a heart condition.


Multiple killings


Arthur was convicted of killing Wicker of Muscle Shoals by shooting him in the right eye on February 1, 1982, according to court documents.

He was a work release prisoner at that time. He had been convicted of killing his sister-in-law in 1977, also by shooting her in the right eye.

Arthur was in a romantic relationship with Judy Wicker, Troy Wicker's wife, the Birmingham News reported.

She initially told authorities that a burglar wearing a wig raped her and killed her husband, the Birmingham News reported. She later testified she paid Arthur $10,000 in life insurance money to kill her husband.

Arthur, who had pleaded not guilty, was first convicted in 1983, but that verdict was overturned on appeal, the News reported.

A 1987 conviction was overturned and he was convicted again in 1991.

Source: CNN, By Faith Karimi and Ralph Ellis, May 26, 2015


Alabama executes Tommy Arthur: Inmate dies for 1982 murder-for-hire


Alabama's death chamber
Alabama's death chamber
On his eighth scheduled execution date, Alabama Death Row inmate Tommy Arthur was put to death by lethal injection for a 1982 murder for hire.

Arthur made a thumbs up gesture with his left hand to his daughter Sherrie who was in the witness room between Arthur's attorney Suhana Han and Jordan Razza, a long-time legal adivsor to Arthur. At one point he also winked towards his daughter.

Arthur, his voice quivering and choking up, read out the names of his children. "I'm sorry I failed you as a father. I love you more than anything on Earth," he said.

He did not admit to or mention anything about the crime that landed him on death row - the shooting death of Troy Wicker Jr.

The execution began about 11:50 p.m., ten minutes before the death warrant was to expire, said Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn.

As long as the execution begins before midnight then the Alabama Attorney General stated they should complete the execution, Dunn said. "It went exactly according to protocol," he said.

The execution was to have begun at 6 p.m. but was delayed by appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the execution had not begun by midnight, the state would have had to sought another execution date.

The execution was in contrast to the Dec. 8 execution of Alabama Death Row inmate Ronald Bert Smith, who for 13 minutes heaved and gasped for breath and two consciousness tests were performed before the lethal drugs were administered. Smith's attorneys called it "botched" but Dunn said it too had gone to protocol.

Arthur slowly drifted off after they began administering the first of three drugs about 11:50 p.m. and his breathing became more shallow. He was pronounced dead at 12:15 p.m.

Gov. Kay Ivey's office issued this statement minutes after Arthur's death:

"How to proceed when faced with a potential execution is one of the most difficult decisions I will ever have to make as governor. After much prayer and careful and deliberate consideration, I thought it best to allow the decision of a jury of Tommy Arthur's peers to stand. In allowing the execution to proceed this evening, the rule of law was upheld, and Mr. Wicker's family can finally rest knowing that his murderer has faced justice.

"Three times Tommy Arthur was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Each time his case was reviewed thoroughly at every level of both our state and federal courts, and the appellate process has ensured that the rights of the accused were protected.

"No governor covets the responsibility of weighing the merits of life or death; but it is a burden I accept as part of my pledge to uphold the laws of this state. Mr. Arthur was rightfully convicted and sentenced, and tonight, that sentence was rightfully and justly carried out."

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he hoped the family of Troy Wicker can begin to recover.

"Thirty-four years after he was first sentenced to death for the murder of a Colbert County man, Thomas Arthur's protracted attempt to escape justice is finally at an end. Most importantly, tonight, the family of Troy Wicker can begin the long-delayed process of recovery from a painful loss."

Wicker's two sons witnessed the execution, but had no statement, prison officials said.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the majority opinion denying a stay despite Arthur's attorneys challenges to the method of execution using the controversial drug midazolam and whether Arthur's attorneys should have access to a phone during the execution. The number of justices who voted for or against the stay was not included in the order.

"Alabama plans to execute Thomas Arthur tonight using a three-drug lethal-injection protocol that uses midazolam as a sedative. I continue to doubt whether midazolam is capable of rendering prisoners insensate to the excruciating pain of lethal injection and thus whether midazolam may be constitutionally used in lethal injection protocols," according to her dissent. "Here, the State has--with the blessing of the courts below-- compounded the risks inherent in the use of midazolam by denying Arthur's counsel access to a phone through which to seek legal relief if the execution fails to proceed as planned."

Arthur's attorneys had argued that they should have a constitutional right to access to the courts through the execution. "Its (the court's) action means that when Thomas Arthur enters the execution chamber tonight, he will leave his constitutional rights at the door," Sotomayor stated in her dissent.

Arthur, 75, was the second oldest inmate on death row. He also was the third-longest serving inmate among Alabama's 184 death row inmates.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: AL.com, Kent Faulk, May 26, 2017

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