Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Convicted murderer serving life says he, not Thomas Arthur, killed Troy Wicker Jr. in 1982

Assistant Alabama Attorney General Clay Crenshaw

Convicted murderer serving life says he, not Thomas Arthur, killed Troy Wicker Jr. in 1982

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

News staff writer

A convicted murderer serving life without parole for stabbing another inmate to death over a carton of cigarettes claims Alabama is about to execute an innocent man.

Bobby Ray Gilbert, who is serving a life sentence at St. Clair Correctional Facility, claims in documents filed in court Tuesday that it was he, not Death Row inmate Thomas D. Arthur, who murdered Troy Wicker Jr. in Muscle Shoals in 1982. Arthur is scheduled to be executed for the crime at 6 p.m. Thursday.

An attorney for the state said Gilbert lacks credibility, and the execution should proceed.

In appeals filed to the Jefferson County Circuit Court and to the Alabama Supreme Court, Arthur's lawyers request a stay of execution, access to evidence for DNA testing, an emergency hearing and an order granting Arthur a new trial. Arthur's attorneys also asked Gov. Bob Riley to delay the execution.

The filings include an affidavit from Gilbert, once known as "Snake," in which he claims Wicker's wife, Judy, paid him $2,000 to kill her husband.

"I used a .22 sawed-off rifle and shot him in the face," Gilbert said in the handwritten document. "I was standing less than 20 inches from him."

Gilbert, now 43, claimed he and Judy Wicker were having an affair when he was 17, that they had sex after the crime and that he then beat her, at her request. Judy Wicker was found at the crime scene, bloodied and beaten.

Judy Wicker told authorities at the scene that a burglar raped her and killed her husband. She was convicted of the crime, however, and served 10 years in prison. She won early release after she changed her testimony and claimed she paid Arthur to kill her husband so she could collect $90,000 in life insurance proceeds. Arthur was convicted in 1991 after two earlier convictions were overturned on technicalities.

Assistant Alabama Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said Gilbert simply is not believable. The state will introduce an affidavit from Judy Wicker denying his claims, he said.

"We don't think any of this has any credibility," he said. "I think he was fed information by Arthur's attorneys."

Gilbert was serving a life sentence for a DeKalb County murder when he stabbed another inmate to death with a homemade knife in 1990 at Donaldson Correctional Facility. The other inmate, Andrew "Gump" Brown, claimed to have influence with the guards and promised to arrange to have Gilbert moved to a new cell in return for a carton of cigarettes. Brown didn't deliver on the promise, so Gilbert killed him, he said at his own trial.

Suhana Han, an attorney representing Arthur, said she learned of Gilbert's story from an anonymous tip and interviewed him on Monday. Crenshaw's claims that defense attorneys coached him aren't founded, she said.

"That's a desperate attempt suggesting that the AG is afraid of the truth," she said. "There is a way to confirm whether Gilbert is telling the truth: DNA testing."

Eric Ferrero, spokesman for the Innocence Project, a nonprofit group that advocates DNA testing for the condemned, said he thinks Gilbert's statement should be enough for the defense to win a stay and gain access to evidence.

Defense attorneys want testing done on an afro wig that Gilbert claims to have worn during the murder, and that Judy Wicker testified Arthur wore. They also want testing done on a rape kit that could indicate whether Arthur, Gilbert or another man had sex with Judy Wicker after the murder.

Earlier Tuesday - before the Gilbert affidavit was filed - the Alabama Supreme Court rejected by a 6-2 vote a defense request for a stay and access to the evidence. State and federal courts have repeatedly ruled that DNA testing of the evidence could not exonerate Arthur, and that he missed deadlines in filing appeals requesting testing.


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