Thursday, 1 November 2007

After execution delayed, state schedules two more

Thursday, November 01, 2007 STAN DIEL News staff writer

Just weeks after a federal court ordered Alabama to delay one execution until after the U.S. Supreme Court hears a challenge to lethal injection, the state on Wednesday scheduled two more.

Thomas D. Arthur, whose execution was delayed while the state changed its lethal injection procedure, has been rescheduled for execution Dec. 6, according to a state Supreme Court order.

James Harvey Callahan, convicted for the 1982 suffocation death of a 26-year-old woman from Jacksonville, is scheduled to die Jan. 31.

The state's action is counter to a nationwide trend. Efforts to reach lawyers representing the two men late Wednesday were not successful, but Sherrie Stone, Arthur's daughter, said the decision to resume executions was purely political.

"It's just crazy," she said. "Alabama is in its own little world."

Stone, of Tampa, was with her father just hours before he was to be executed Sept. 27 when Gov. Bob Riley issued a 45-day stay to allow time to change Alabama's lethal injection procedure. The state since that time has added a step in which a guard will call the inmate by name, brush his eyelashes with a finger, and pinch his arm to assess consciousness before drugs causing death are administered.

The new procedure comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide a Kentucky case that challenges the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Alabama keeps details of its procedure secret, but lawyers for Death Row inmates have said it was identical to Kentucky's before the change. The Supreme Court case argues that Kentucky's procedure, which is widely used by other states, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The U.S. Supreme Court, state courts and elected officials have halted executions in a dozen states pending the outcome of the Kentucky case.

On Tuesday, the high court halted an execution in Mississippi, just minutes before the inmate was to die, and a federal judge in Arkansas called off an execution scheduled for Nov. 8.

The stays make this year's nationwide total of executions to date - 42 - the lowest since 1994. For the first time in nearly three years, a month has passed with no executions in the United States.

Even in Texas, the nation's leader in executions, prosecutors have decided to await the outcome of the Supreme Court case.

Officials there said voluntarily postponing executions, rather than facing a court-imposed halt, will make it easier to resume them later. Twenty-six of the nation's 42 executions this year have taken place in Texas. No other state has had more than three.

The Supreme Court has allowed only one execution to go forward since agreeing to hear the Kentucky case. Michael Richard was executed in Texas on Sept. 25, the same day the court said it would hear the lethal injection challenge.

Alabama's decision to proceed not only bucks the national trend, it runs counter to its own recent experience in the courts.

On Oct. 24, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ordered a stay for convicted Alabama serial killer Daniel Siebert, who was scheduled to be executed at Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore the next day.

In that ruling, the court ordered Siebert's execution delayed until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Kentucky case, Baze v. Rees. Arguments in the case will be made early next year and a decision should come by late June.

2 appeals pending:

Arthur, now 65, was convicted for the Sept. 27, 1982, murder-for-hire killing of Troy Wicker Jr. of Muscle Shoals. Wicker, 35, was shot through the eye as he slept.

Wicker's wife, Judy, initially told police that a man had raped her and killed her husband. But she later recanted and said she paid Arthur, a work-release inmate with whom she was having an affair, to kill her spouse so she could collect $90,000 in life insurance proceeds.

Arthur's case was championed by death penalty opponents, including the Innocence Project and Amnesty International, because of irregularities in his three trials and their belief that modern testing of DNA evidence could prove his innocence.

Arthur has appeals pending before both the 11th Circuit Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. Stone said her father expects his execution to be delayed again.

Callahan was convicted in 1987 for raping and murdering Rebecca Suzanne Howell. She was last seen alive the night of Feb. 3, 1982, as she left work to go to a coin laundry in Jacksonville, near Anniston. Her body was found two weeks later in Tallasseehatchee Creek, her hands bound.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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