Even Thomas Arthur deserves justice
Imagine the joy in my little anti-death penalty heart when I learned that the Alabama Supreme Court granted Thomas Arthur his third stay of execution on Wednesday.
Joy, not for Arthur, but for justice. Though I confess I was surprised. The court is no bastion of bleeding-heart liberalism.
Eight of the nine justices are Republicans, self-proclaimed, diehard conservatives, who I suspect probably are quite comfortable with the death penalty.
This won't sit well with many conservative voters. But GOPers should breathe easy. Alabama's death penalty will still be in place regardless of what happens to Arthur, much to my regret.
The court hasn't swung wildly to the left. The stay wasn't the opening salvo in a judicial assault on the death penalty in Alabama. It's about something more fundamental and basic than that: ensuring that the state doesn't put innocent people to death.
Some will bristle at the idea that Arthur could be innocent of anything. People who have known him for years described him as troubled and violent in one 2007 article published by the TimesDaily. Another TimesDaily story described him as "one of the most notorious criminals in the history of the Shoals." It's also true that Arthur had been convicted of murder and was on work release when he was charged with killing Troy Wicker in 1982.
His daughter, Sherrie Arthur, while questioning her father's guilt in the Wicker murder, told the TimesDaily that he "was not the greatest father in the world."
Still, previous crimes and bad parenting aren't what's at issue. Arthur's character, or lack thereof, isn't the point, at least this time.
The question is whether Arthur killed Wicker. The point is to make sure that if the state is going to execute Arthur for a crime that he, in fact, did commit the crime.
Caught in the middle is Troy Wicker's family. They lost a loved one in the most unjust, horrible way. I can't imagine the pain they live with, the sorrow and anger they must feel.
Yet, the state can't afford to ignore that the Wicker murder is a murky affair. Judy Wicker, his widow, originally claimed that a black man had broken into their home, raped her and killed her husband. Later, she confessed to paying Arthur $10,000 to kill him.
And authorities found undeniable links to Arthur and Judy Wicker, who claimed she and Arthur had been having an affair. Circumstantial evidence certainly seemed to link Arthur to the crime.
Now, years later, convicted murderer Bobby Ray Gilbert has signed an affidavit confessing to the Wicker murder. Judy Wicker says that Gilbert, who is locked up at the St. Clair Correctional Facility with a life sentence, is lying.
Also revealed this week: The state has lost the rape kit that was performed on Judy Wicker at the time of the crime. So Arthur will now apparently be deprived of at least some DNA testing, which he has long maintained would prove his innocence.
These two late developments may not ultimately prove Arthur's innocence, but they certainly cast a huge shadow on the certainty of Arthur's guilt. The Alabama Supreme Court had no choice but to grant him another stay.
It doesn't serve any citizen if justice becomes a precarious, arbitrary proposition in Alabama. It always must be clear and certain, especially when the death penalty is involved.
Thomas Arthur has done some terrible, horrible things in his life. He has hurt people close to him, flouted the justice system and even pleaded guilty to murder once before.
He's no model citizen, no champion of virtue.
But none of that means he killed Troy Wicker. And before the state of Alabama puts him to death - if it puts him to death - it needs to be sure that he is guilty.
David Person's e-mail: david.person@