April 29, 2007
Arthur still fights system after 25 years
By Bernie Delinski and Tom Smith, Times Daily
After months of an exhaustive murder investigation that started with a lie
from one of the culprits and evolved into the uncovered truth, authorities
finally had the information to arrest the man who has come to be known as
one of the most notorious criminals in the history of the Shoals.
Investigators also knew exactly where that man -- Tommy Arthur -- could be
found: the Decatur Work Release Center.
Local authorities had Arthur transferred to the Morgan County Jail, where he
officially was arrested on the grand jury indictment for the murder-for-hire
slaying of 35-year-old Troy Wicker.
Arthur would be found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death.
Little did authorities realize at the time, Arthur's death sentence would
not be carried out to this day -- 25 years to the day after that April 29,
Arthur has spent a quarter of a century insisting upon his innocence and
using the judicial system to his advantage, even to the point where he
requested the death penalty in order to gain automatic appeals and better
access to law books.
While waiting for a retrial, Arthur broke out of the Colbert County Jail,
shooting a jailer in the process. While on the run, he was accused of
robbing a bank.
And he has been screaming ever since being captured that he is a victim of
the system and has held firm in his belief that one day he will be freed.
Those who have had contact with Arthur say the unfolding saga serves as a
prime example of the manipulative, cunning nature of the man.
"He was a piece of work, a real piece of work," said James "Jap" Patton, who
was the Colbert County district attorney who prosecuted Arthur for what
would turn out to be the first of three trials in the same case.
"He was a legend in his own mind," Patton said.
"Tommy had a real good personality,
Shoals police investigator who was the lead investigator in the 1982 murder
"He would have been a real good salesman, but he just chose to go the other
Hall believes Arthur used that personality as a tool of crime.
"I'm not upholding what he did, don't get me wrong," Hall said. "If you go
back through the history of people on the wrong side of the law, in a whole
lot of cases like serial killers, that cunning, likeable personality is how
they got away with it for so long."
Through the years, Arthur has gone through several lawyers, firing several
along the way. He even represented himself at times.
He is still using the system to at least delay his pending date with death.
His latest attorney, Suhana Han, of New York City, filed a complaint April
12 demanding that evidence collected in the case 25 years ago be submitted
for DNA testing. If the motion is denied, she plans to appeal to the 11th
Judicial Court and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.
The complaint is another in the legal maneuvering that has taken place fore
more than two decades. The latest effort comes on the heels of the U.S.
Supreme Court seemingly denying the final appeal in the process.
Han insists the complaint filed in federal court in Alabama is not another
"What's driving this is the hope that someone will realize Mr. Arthur has
been denied justice," Han said.
Arthur's daughter, Sherrie Arthur, admits now that she initially was "kind
of glad" when her father was found guilty.
"You know, he was not the greatest father in the world, but after reviewing
the facts, I really question whether he is guilty," Sherrie Arthur said.
"All I can do is look at the facts. I can't live in a dream world."
She said those facts, even after 25 years, have not all come to light. For
example, she said there is DNA evidence that has not been revealed to the
The victim's wife, Judy Wicker, also was convicted in the murder, sentenced
to life in prison and has been released after serving 10 years.
Reports indicate Wicker initially claimed a black man broke into their home,
raped her and killed her husband.
She later testified against Arthur and said she had sex with Tommy Arthur
shortly before he killed her husband.
"The rape kit would prove it either way," Sherrie Arthur said, noting that
analysis of the rape kit was never made available to her father's attorneys.
Hall and numerous others involved in the case, however, say the right man
was convicted in the case.
The 1982 incident wasn't the only shooting authorities connected to Arthur.
His criminal past has many twists and turns.
Authorities say within a span of less than 10 years, from 1977 to 1986,
Arthur shot at least four people.
The first victim was a woman who was killed in 1977 in Marion County, a
shooting in which he was convicted. Arthur abused work release privileges in
connection with that case to kill Wicker, authorities say. They say Judy
Wicker paid him $10,000.
Another shooting involved a Colbert County guard when Arthur broke out of
the jail in 1986, shortly before the scheduled retrial in Troy Wicker's
shooting. The guard survived a gunshot wound to the neck. The event caused
one of his former attorneys to go into hiding, fearing Arthur might come
looking for him.
Arthur fled to Knoxville, Tenn., where he would mastermind a bank robbery in
which he made off with more than $9,000. That scheme included the abduction
of a 56-year-old woman while stealing her vehicle.
Arthur was captured outside a hotel in Knoxville, wearing an all-white suit
as he was getting into another car that had been reported stolen,
He was found guilty of the robbery in Tennessee, and sentenced to 30 years
The retrial in the Troy Wicker murder conviction ultimately took place in
Jefferson County in 1987 after a change of venue. It was one of two retrials
for Arthur in Troy Wicker's shooting.
In the original trial and the retrials, the result was the same: A jury
found him guilty of capital murder.
Through the years, Arthur has exhausted appeal after appeal, taking it all
the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
April seems to be the month of landmark events in Arthur's case.
It was April 29, 1982, when Arthur and accomplice Judy Wicker were arrested
for the murder of Judy Wicker's husband.
It was April 5, 1985, when Arthur's initial conviction was overturned by the
Alabama Supreme Court.
It was April 11, 2001, when the state Supreme Court denied a motion to delay
Arthur's execution, which had been set for 12:01 a.m. April 27. A U.S.
District judge, however, would grant a stay of execution on April 24, and
the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision refusing to lift that stay, just
seven hours before Arthur was to be executed.
It was April 16 of this year when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review
Arthur's death sentence.
The next day, April 17, the Alabama Attorney General's Office officially
requested to the state Supreme Court that an execution date be set for
Arthur. They are awaiting a response.
One reason the Wicker case was tried as capital murder was because of his
Gary Alverson, who was the Colbert County district attorney in Arthur's two
trials in which his capital murder conviction was upheld, said it can be
considered capital murder if you have been convicted of a prior murder
within 20 years of the existing case.
In 1977, Arthur was charged with murder and assault with intent to murder
after the Marion County shooting earlier that year of Eloise West and
West, the sister of Arthur's common-law wife, Shirley Dodd, was shot once in
the right eye and killed. Harbin, a cousin, was injured by a single shot
that struck her left arm and side.
The shooting occurred at a mobile home supply company in Bear Creek.
Authorities said Arthur walked into the building and shot the women while
searching for his estranged wife. The women refused to call his wife, so
Arthur pulled guns from each pocket and started shooting.
Arthur initially would plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He later
changed that plea to guilty on what would have been the first day of his
He was sentenced to life in prison. By 1982, he was in a Decatur work
Authorities said that is when Arthur and Judy Wicker schemed to kill her
husband, apparently so she could obtain his insurance money.
Police said the two had known each other for some time, and Arthur
apparently had bought a car in violation of the terms of his work release.
He would report to work and then leave, authorities said.
Wicker's initial story was that she was attacked and beaten upon returning
to her Muscle Shoals residence at 301 Highland Ave., after taking their
children to school.
Muscle Shoals police Capt. Lanny Coan was a patrol officer at the time. He
was the first officer to enter the house, followed immediately by Capt.
"She was laying right inside the house, on the floor, with a robe on," Coan
They went farther into the house and found Troy Wicker's body, he said.
"The house was turned upside down," Coan said. "Every drawer had been pulled
out and thrown in the floor.
"We thought it was an assault case, where someone had broken in and beaten
her up. Then we found him dead and we didn't know what had happened.
"I'm sure it's one of the most bizarre cases that's ever been in this area."
Later, investigators would learn about the murder-for-hire scheme. Wicker
was convicted of murder in 1982, and paroled 10 years later.
Testimony during Arthur's trial indicated he had arranged the purchase of
bullets in Huntsville that were the same make of those used in the shooting.
Hall and Sheffield Police Chief Doug Aycock remember interviewing Arthur
about the case. Aycock was a Sheffield investigator at the time, and the
department granted a request from Muscle Shoals to allow Aycock to assist
with the case.
Aycock said he'd had previous dealings with Arthur. In fact, Arthur was
arrested in Sheffield on March 11, 1977, in connection with the Marion
Hall and Aycock interviewed Arthur together, and let him know they had
information that put him in Muscle Shoals several times.
They had information from a Huntsville club worker who said she had bought
ammunition for Arthur. The woman told them Arthur said he "had a job to do
in Muscle Shoals" authorities said.
Aycock said a Muscle Shoals police officer saw someone in the car with Judy
Wicker while it was at the school crosswalk when she was dropping off her
kids at school.
Authorities had phone records that tied Arthur and Judy Wicker.
Some $2,000 or more was found in Arthur's locker at the work release center
in Decatur, Aycock said. It was Aycock who was able to fit the pieces of the
puzzle together, having heard from a state trooper that a large sum of money
had been found in the locker.
Yet Arthur never budged during interrogations.
"Every time we interviewed him, he never admitted to anything," Hall said.
"He would always talk to us, but would never admit to anything or tell us
what we needed to know."
The three capital murder trials, themselves, were quite interesting.
Arthur went through several attorneys, starting with two Decatur lawyers
whom he dismissed. Arthur often would try parts of the case on his own.
Shoals attorneys Alan Gargis, Steve Gargis, Billy Underwood and William
Hovater were among those who defended Arthur.
Hovater said the first trial was "just a circus."
"He took over his defense and did a lot of grandstanding,
was among the defense team in the second trial, after Steve Gargis was
recused from the case.
Hovater said he never had any problems, but Arthur would often butt heads
with his attorneys.
For instance, while the defense would be attempting to file a request for a
change of venue, Arthur would say he wanted it to stay in the Shoals.
Despite his request, his retrials were in Birmingham.
Ultimately, when his attorneys were pleading for Arthur's life after he was
convicted of capital murder, Arthur would stand up and tell jurors he wanted
the death penalty.
"In Birmingham, after I argued against the death penalty during the penalty
phase of the trial, Tommy stood and gave an eloquent speech," Hovater said.
"He told the jury, 'You may not understand my reasons, but I ask you to
sentence me to the death penalty.' "
And they did.
Hovater said prosecutors offered a plea including a sentence of life in
prison without parole before Arthur's retrial.
Arthur didn't mince words in his response, Hovater said. "He told me to tell
them to take it and shove it ."
Underwood said he and Arthur had personality conflicts.
"After three months, his idea of what he wanted to tell the jury and my idea
of the truth were vastly different," Underwood said.
Underwood wouldn't go into detail because of attorney-client privacy, but
added, "I had problems with some things he wanted to say and do in the
"If I think it's so outlandishly a lie, I have a duty to tell him,"
A full 25 years after his arrest, the Arthur saga continues.
That is much to the disdain of Alabama Attorney General Troy King and others
who argue that it takes too long for Alabama to carry out death sentences.
"Sometimes, doesn't the continued delay of justice result in the denial of
justice (for the victims)," he asks.
"In so many ways, this is indicative of a system that is not perfect," King
said. "The system promises they are going to give them justice. But the
victims and their families continue to wait and wait and wait for justice
and become victims of the system. They become jaded and victims all over
There are 199 inmates on death row in Alabama, according to the Alabama
Department of Corrections. Nine have been on death row longer than Arthur,
with the longest incarcerated May 31, 1978.
The last execution in Alabama was Oct. 26, 2005, according to the
The average stay on death row is 13 years, King said.
"Twenty-five years is too long to wait for justice to be done, especially in
a case as cold-blooded and calculated as this," King said. "This just
magnifies a system out of balance."
He said someone should remain on death row for as long as it takes to be
certain of their guilt. Three juries have done so, and that should suffice,
"A person shouldn't be allowed to manipulate the system and prolong victims'
agony," he said. "In my judgment, the time has come to deliver justice in
But, Sherrie Arthur says, it doesn't matter how many trials take place if
all the evidence isn't presented.
She said she would love to find out that her father is innocent. Even if the
evidence shows he's guilty, it would at least bring closure, she said.
"I need to know whether he did that," said Sherrie Arthur, who was arrested
and later acquitted on charges that she smuggled the gun to her father that
was used in the jail break. "I need closure, too. There are two sets of
victims in a murder: the victim's family and the family of the one
convicted. We all want to know the truth."
Arthur's attorney stresses a timeline cannot be placed on a life-and-death
"From our perspective, this is not the end," said Han, who first learned
about the case through Legal Aid attorney Arnold Levine.
She said some people have the perspective that 25 years is a long time to
carry out a death sentence, but there is another way to look at it.
"From Mr. Arthur's perspective, 25 years is a long time to spend in prison
for a crime he didn't do," Han said.
Sherrie Arthur is hopeful, but not optimistic, that Han's request will be
"It'll get turned down," she said. "He'll be executed within the next 30 to
60 days. He doesn't have a chance."
Source : Times Daily