Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Clearly, these claims must be investigated before the execution occurs

Thomas Arthur is to be executed Thursday for a murder another prisoner now claims he committed. Clearly, these claims must be investigated before the execution occurs

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thomas Arthur has been on Death Row 25 years for the murder of Troy Wicker. Twice before, he came within a day of being executed. Thursday, he is scheduled, once again, to die for this crime he claims he didn't commit.

Once again, the execution must be stopped.

Another Alabama inmate now claims he killed Wicker. Bobby Ray Gilbert claims he committed the crime as a favor to Wicker's wife, Judy. He claims he had been having an affair with Mrs. Wicker, and that she later paid him $2,000.

Gilbert's sworn statement was filed in court Tuesday in a petition that asks for DNA testing to verify the inmate's story and asks to postpone Arthur's execution until Gilbert's confession can be investigated.

Without doubt, Gilbert's claims must be met with a degree of skepticism. It wouldn't be the first time a confession like this turned out to be a fraud.

On the other hand, what Gilbert is saying can't simply be disregarded - not when there's a risk of executing the wrong man for the crime.

The case already contains enough odd twists to raise questions about Arthur's guilt. Mrs. Wicker initially told police a man broke into her home, raped her and killed her husband. At the crime scene, she appeared to have been beaten, and a rape kit was collected. Jurors didn't believe her story and convicted both her and Arthur - a work-release inmate with whom she was having an affair - of the killing.

Mrs. Wicker didn't change her story until prosecutors offered her a chance to get an early release from prison. At a subsequent trial for Arthur, she implicated him. Arthur was sentenced to death; Mrs. Wicker went free. The prosecutor in Arthur's last trial earlier had been Mrs. Wicker's lawyer.

All along, Arthur has maintained his innocence, and since DNA testing became available, he has insisted it could be used to clear him. The attorney general's office and governor's office have refused to go along with DNA testing; among other excuses, they claimed the tests wouldn't prove anything either way.

With Gilbert's statement, that's just no longer true. He claims that after shooting Troy Wicker, he had sex with Judy Wicker. If so, DNA testing of semen collected from Mrs. Wicker could at the very least show whether Gilbert is telling the truth about that.

Other facts in Gilbert's statement - names, places, etc. - also can be checked out to either bolster the veracity of his claims or to debunk them.

At least some of the statements from Gilbert mesh with some of the known facts in the case. Even so, that doesn't mean Gilbert is telling the truth. While he claims he doesn't know Arthur, Gilbert spent time in Holman Correctional Facility, where Death Row is located. He could have learned about the case there or even from newspapers.

But what if Gilbert is telling the truth? Gilbert said he began telling people last year that he killed Wicker, and even told prison officers the state shouldn't execute Arthur for the crime and that he needed to speak with Arthur's lawyers. He said he came forward only after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people couldn't be executed for crimes they committed as juveniles. Gilbert was 17 when Wicker was killed.

There's no way at this point to know whether Gilbert is telling the truth. But the state of Alabama can't assume he is lying and take the chance of executing an innocent man. Arthur's execution must not go forward.

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