Friday, 12 October 2007

Another death row suit is filed

Lawyers for an Alabama death-row inmate have filed another federal lawsuit in Mobile seeking to halt the execution on the grounds that the state's method of lethal injection is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the condemned man's daughter has sued seeking to block the state from conducting an autopsy if prison officials do execute him.

Tommy Arthur, convicted in 1991 of murdering a Muscle Shoals man, was set to die at Atmore's Holman prison Sept. 27. But Gov. Bob Riley postponed the execution for 45 days to give the Department of Corrections time to implement new death-penalty procedures.

The state has asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set a new execution date of Nov. 15 -- before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a case from Kentucky challenging a lethal injection method that closely resembles Alabama's.

A lawsuit filed this week in Mobile asks a judge to prevent Arthur's execution until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules and after a federal judge in Montgomery rules on a similar challenge.

Arthur's suit argues that the changes announced by Alabama officials "will do little, if anything, to mitigate the substantial risk of cruel and unusual pain."

Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw, who handles death penalty litigation for Alabama, said he would seek to have Arthur's lawsuit dismissed. "It's a little unbelievable that they would be filing a lawsuit when they've got the same lawsuit pending in the United States Supreme Court," he said. "It's not necessary."

Arthur's daughter, Tampa, Fla., resident Sherrie Arthur Stone, accused state officials of being in a rush to execute her father. "We feel like all the states, including Alabama, should wait until the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality," she said.

Stone, who was 15 when her father went to prison, said she spent most of her life hating him and believing he was guilty. But she said she delved into the case about 2½ years ago and became convinced of his innocence. She has waged a so-far-unsuccessful battle to force DNA tests on evidence gathered from the crime scene. "We don't see any reason why it shouldn't be tested," she said. "That can prove my father was never at the crime scene."

In a separate complaint that she filed in Mobile's federal court last month, Stone is seeking under the First Amendment's freedom-of-religion protections to prevent the state from conducting an autopsy on her father's body if he is executed. "I didn't see any reason for an autopsy, and my religion doesn't believe in cutting his body up," she said.

U.S. District Judge William Steele has denied Stone's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, and Crenshaw predicted the state will win the suit. He questioned whether Stone has the legal right to file the lawsuit and said her complaint does not describe her "deeply held religious beliefs."

Stone said she is a non-denominational Christian.

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