Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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: Judge dismisses prisoner’s lethal injection claim

MONTGOMERY — A judge on Monday dismissed a death row inmate’s claim that Alabama improperly allows “unaccountable bureaucrats” to decide how executions are carried out in the state.

The ruling came as lawyers for Tommy Arthur urged another judge to force the state to release prison records from recent executions, including one where the inmate coughed for 13 minutes.

Arthur is scheduled to be given a lethal injection on May 25 for the 1982 murder-for-hire slaying of Troy Wicker. Investigators said Arthur was having an affair with Wicker’s wife and she paid Arthur $10,000 to kill her husband. Arthur was on a prison work-release program for the slaying of his sister-in-law at the time of Wicker’s killing.

Montgomery Circuit Judge Truman Hobbs on Monday dismissed Arthur’s lawsuit claiming Alabama improperly lets the Department of Corrections determine the lethal injection protocol. Hobbs wrote that Arthur waited too late to raise that claim.

Arthur’s lawyers argued in a separate lawsuit that the state is being illegally secretive about recent executions and wrongly refused to release information through a public records request.

The Department of Corrections has refused to release execution logs and other records from recent executions. Arthur’s lawyers argued that witness accounts suggested the inmates might not have been fully anesthetized after being given the sedative midazolam.

The state refused to release records saying it “would be detrimental to the public interest” and might identify prison employees involved in executions. The accused Arthur of being on a “fishing expedition” as he tries to stop his execution.

Arthur’s attorneys argued in a motion filed Friday that the records are public and the state was using flimsy reasons for not releasing them. Names can be redacted if needed, they wrote.

“For Mr. Arthur, who is scheduled to be executed on May 25, 2017, the need for information regarding his government’s affairs — specifically, records concerning the State’s last two executions — is especially urgent. But even if Mr. Arthur were not a death row inmate facing imminent execution, he would, like any other citizen of Alabama, have “a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute,” Arthur’s lawyers wrote.

Source: The Associated Press, May 8, 2017

Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur writes to Gov. Kay Ivey: 'My life is in your hands'

Tommy Arthur
Tommy Arthur
Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur, who is set to be executed later this month, has sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey pleading for his life and DNA testing on hair he claims was collected in his case.

"Please do not let me die for a crime I did not commit and the facts on these pages point to (the) real killer," Arthur writes in a 4-page hand-written letter. He states that "my life is in your hands" and asks her to consider his claims about evidence in his case.

The letter was first sent by the 75-year-old inmate last week to AL.com, which forwarded it to Ivey's press secretary.

"We just received the letter and it will be reviewed. The AG's (Alabama Attorney General's) office will be given an opportunity to respond, and Gov. Ivey will be thoroughly briefed on all the issues raised by Mr. Arthur and his attorneys," according to a statement emailed to AL.com from Bryan Taylor, Governor's Legal Counsel.

Arthur's execution is set for May 25 at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. It is the 8th time since 2001 that the state has set an execution for Arthur for his conviction in the 1982 shooting death of Troy Wicker.

Last month, Ivey denied a request by Arthur's attorneys for DNA testing of a wig purportedly used by Wicker's killer. Ivey, in her letter denying the testing, stated that no genetic material had been found when the wig was tested 8 years ago.

Arthur, however, states that his attorneys did not include a request to test a hair he claims is also among the evidence collected by police in his case. Arthur asks that the hair be found and tested.

3 different juries in trials in 1983, 1987 and 1991 found him guilty. The victim's wife, Judy Wicker, was also convicted of the murder and spent a decade in prison. She testified at one trial she paid Arthur $10,000 of the insurance money for the killing. Judy Wicker and Arthur, who was on work release at the time, were in a romantic relationship, court records show.

"Please Governor Ivey don't kill me with this evidence never being DNA tested. I simply am not guilty," Arthur writes.

Alabama has set executions for Arthur seven previous times, but each time he was granted a stay, including by the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 3, 2016.

Arthur also had written a letter to former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley begging for his life prior to the November planned execution. Bentley did not grant that plea for clemency.

Will Gov. Kay Ivey grant clemency to death row inmates?

As governor, Ivey has the power to commute the death sentence of an inmate to life or grant reprieves to stay executions.

Here is a timeline of Arthur's case:

-- On Feb. 1, 1982, police found Troy Wicker of Muscle Shoals shot to death in his bed - a gunshot wound to his right eye.

-- 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, Eloise West, in Marion County. Having two murder convictions in that short a span made him eligible for the death penalty.

-- Arthur was convicted of capital murder in 1983.

-- In 1985, Arthur's conviction in the Wicker case was overturned because details of the earlier murder had been introduced at his trial.

-- On Jan. 27, 1986, while awaiting retrial, Arthur escaped from the Colbert County jail by shooting a jailer in the neck with a .25 caliber pistol and forcing another jailer to open his cell. He was caught a month later by FBI agents in Knoxville, Tenn., after robbing a bank.

-- Arthur was retried for the Wicker murder in 1987, with the case moved to Jefferson County because of publicity. He was convicted, but the conviction was again overturned.

-- Arthur was tried again in Jefferson County and convicted in 1991. That verdict was upheld.

-- Before he was sentenced, Arthur asked jurors to recommend the death penalty. He said that he did not have a death wish, but that the sentence would provide more access to appeals. A lawyer for the state at that time said Arthur "knows how to work the system."

-- Tuscumbia attorney William Hovater, who was appointed to defend Arthur after he fired his first 2 attorneys and later escaped from the Colbert County Jail, told a reporter after one trial that he had worked a plea agreement for Arthur to be sentenced to life without parole, if he pleaded guilty. Arthur declined. "He never admitted that he did it," Hovater told a reporter.

Source: al.com, May 9, 2017

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