|December 29, 2007|
Gov. Bob Riley said he will not order DNA testing for Alabama
death row inmate
Thomas Arthur because he does not have the power to do so.
"I simply do not have the authority to order post-conviction
Riley said during a telephone interview.
Last week six men who were exonerated by DNA testing
after being sentenced to
death sent a petition calling on Riley to order DNA
testing in Arthur's case.
The 65-year-old inmate was originally scheduled to be
executed Dec. 6 for the
1982 murder-for-hire slaying of Troy Wicker Jr.
of Muscle Shoals. But the U.S.
Supreme Court has effectively halted executions
nationwide until a Kentucky case
on the constitutionality of lethal injections is ruled on.
Riley said he supports post-conviction DNA testing,
and will support it again
when legislation making it mandatory is expected
to be introduced during
the upcoming legislative session.
But he said the way the law stands now, the power
to order and have the
state pay for such tests rests exclusively with the courts.
The governor's legal adviser, Ken Wallis, said he has
advised Riley that no
governor of Alabama has the power to order such tests
under the Alabama Constitution.
Wallis said although governors had extensive
powers 40 or 50 years ago,
the current constitution gives governors only two powers
relating to death penalty
cases: the power to grant a reprieve by reducing a
death sentence to
life without parole, and the power to temporarily
stay an execution.
"Certainly the governor doesn't have the power to
for something that was never contemplated
under the budget," he said.
"The authority to do this lies with the court system,
and only the court system,
unless the Legislature passes a law changing that.
"In this case, Mr. Arthur has presented the request
to the court, been denied,
it has been appealed to a higher court, and it has been
denied on appeal.
In this case, all these things were addressed in motions
and in trial.
The evidence against him was overwhelming.
A co-conspirator pled guilty a
nd served time for this crime."
But Eric Ferrero, director of communications for The Innocence
which has helped coordinate the effort to have DNA testing
done in the case,
is skeptical both of Arthur's guilt and of the reasons for not
trying to prove
or disprove it conclusively through DNA testing.
Ferrero said while the constitution may not explicitly state
has such power, other governors, such as Florida's Jeb Bush a
nd President Bush,
when he was governor of Texas, have ordered DNA testing in
death row cases.
"Neither of them had an explicit law that said they could do that,
but they did.
They just felt they had the moral obligation to do that," Ferrero said.
have considerable leeway in cases like this.
"I think the real question to ask here is: 'Have they even tried?
Has anyone even challenged their authority to do it?'"
Ferrero said others involved with death penalty cases have long
by how rare it is to hear governors say how powerless they are to
do things -- except
in death penalty cases.
"Before they said they wouldn't do it because we were trying to
use DNA tests as a
delaying tactic, but obviously that is not the case now because
it is already being
delayed," he said.
Ferrero believes a DNA test will exonerate Arthur. He said there
is now no reason
not to have the tests since DNA testing would take only about
a month and his
organization has agreed to pay for the testing. A DNA test for
usually costs in the thousands of dollars, according to Ferrero.
Attempts were made to interview Arthur's attorney, Suhana Han,
but she did
not return phone calls Thursday or Friday.
Judy Wicker, the murder victim's wife, initially told police that
a black man
had raped her and killed her husband.
She later confessed that she was having an affair with Arthur,
inmate, and paid him $10,000 to kill her spouse so she
could collect $90,000
in life insurance.