US Supreme Court grants stay of execution for Thomas Arthur
By Garry Mitchell
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday granted a stay of execution for Alabama death row inmate Thomas Arthur, who for the second time since September came within a day of lethal injection.
The 65-year-old Arthur was facing lethal injection Thursday at Holman prison, but the high court, in a one-paragraph order, blocked his execution until the court decides whether to review his lethal injection challenge.
That's not expected until the Supreme Court settles a lethal injection challenge in a Kentucky case. A ruling in that case is expected next year and a stay for Arthur was anticipated by attorneys on both sides.
Arthur was sentenced to death for the 1982 killing of Troy Wicker, 35, of Muscle Shoals.
Arthur's attorney, Suhana Han of New York, had argued for a stay citing the Kentucky case. Arthur also had filed a lawsuit challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment.
The state's attorneys contended Arthur had offered no proof of that claim and that he had waited too late to file it in court. Arthur's suit was rejected by a federal judge in Montgomery and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which led to the Supreme Court petition.
Han said she's pleased with the high court's decision.
"Alabama should not be permitted to execute Mr. Arthur by the very same method of execution being reviewed by the Supreme Court," she said via e-mail. "This stay provides a critical opportunity for the governor of Alabama to put to rest any lingering doubts about Mr. Arthur's culpability.
She repeated a call for the governor to grant her request to conduct DNA testing -- "at our expense -- on evidence that has never been subjected to such testing." That request has been rejected by the courts.
In Montgomery, Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw, the state's capital punishment chief, said he was disappointed with the high court's decision.
He said Arthur's conviction and sentence for "horrible crimes" have been upheld "by every court that's ever looked at it." But he said he wasn't surprised by the high court's action because stays have been granted in other states based on the Kentucky case.
Arthur came within hours of lethal injection at Holman prison on Sept. 27, when Gov. Bob Riley granted a 45-day reprieve so the state could make minor changes in its execution procedure.
Riley acted after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Kentucky challenge to lethal injection.
Arthur has been on death row about 16 years after being convicted for capital murder and sentenced to death in 1992 at his third trial. His first two convictions and death sentences in the Wicker murder were overturned on appeal.
Alabama's next execution is set Jan. 31, for James Harvey Callahan, who has asked for a stay in lower court, and attorneys expect it also will be delayed by the Kentucky case.
The high court has allowed only one execution to be completed since it agreed to hear the Kentucky case. It occurred in Texas on Sept. 25, the same day the court agreed to take the Kentucky case, Baze vs. Rees.