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Arthur gets 45-day stay of execution

By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press Writer

ATMORE — Gov. Bob Riley granted a 45-day stay of execution for Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur within hours of his scheduled lethal injection Thursday for a 1982 contract murder.

Riley said a change made this week in the state's lethal injection procedures called for a delay in the execution of Arthur, who had been scheduled to die at 6 p.m. but would not have received the new lethal injection formula.

The change in lethal injection procedures, announced by Riley on Wednesday, is designed to make sure the inmate is unconscious when given drugs to stop the heart and lungs.

"The decision to grant a brief stay is being made only because the state is changing its lethal injection protocol, and this will allow sufficient time for the Department of Corrections to make that change," Riley said.

Riley said evidence is "overwhelming" that Arthur is guilty "and he will be executed for his crime." The governor encouraged the attorney general's office to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to set another execution date "as soon as possible."

Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said the request would be filed with the court Friday.

Another death row inmate, Daniel Lee Seibert, is scheduled to die by lethal injection Oct. 25, before the 45-day stay ends for Arthur. It was not immediately known how Seibert's execution might be affected.

Arthur also has a stay request pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, based in part on the court's decision to hear a closely watched lethal injection challenge in Kentucky. The Alabama Supreme Court had declined to grant a stay Wednesday.

Prison system spokesman Brian Corbett said Arthur had been moved on Tuesday to the cell adjacent to the execution chamber. After receiving the stay he was moved back to his cell on death row.

Arthur was visiting with his daughter, Shelia Stone, when he learned of the stay in a call from his attorney, Corbett said. He was allowed to visit for a short time longer, and was then returned to his original cell.

Arthur, 65, who maintained his innocence, was sentenced to death for the Feb. 1, 1982 killing of Troy Wicker, 35, of Muscle Shoals. The victim's wife, Judy Wicker, testified she had sex with Arthur and paid him $10,000 to kill her husband, who was shot in the face as he lay in bed.

At the time of his arrest for the Wicker killing, Arthur was serving a sentence at a prison work release center for an earlier murder.

Arthur, whose first two capital murder convictions were overturned on appeal, was convicted at a third trial in Colbert County in 1992. Arthur's supporters had included the New York-based Innocence Project and the anti-death penalty Amnesty International USA.

Arthur's pro bono attorney, Suhana Han of New York, said Riley's decision to change the lethal injection protocol in Alabama amounted to the state conceding its execution procedure was deficient. She did not immediately return a phone message for comment on Riley's 45-day stay order.

State officials described the protocol changes as minor.

Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson said the changes provide additional safeguards to make sure inmates are unconscious before administered drugs that kill them.

In July, supporters of another condemned inmate, Darrell Grayson, asked Riley for a stay, but he declined. At that time, a spokesman for the governor said, "The governor does not have the authority to stay the execution, but only to grant a commutation of the sentence to life without parole."

Emerson said Thursday the governor's staff realized that statement was in error before Grayson's July 26 execution. "The governor chose not to issue a stay of execution in that case because no new evidence came to light," he said.

State prosecutors say Arthur exhausted state and federal appeals of his conviction when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a review on April 16. Afterward, his attorney filed lawsuits challenging lethal injection and seeking DNA evidence, bringing his case back into federal courts.

According to testimony, Judy Wicker, now 60, testified that she began a sexual relationship with Arthur after he committed to killing her husband and that she paid him $10,000 for the slaying. She initially said an intruder, not Arthur, killed her husband. She was given a life sentence for her part in the murder and paroled after 10 years behind bars.

Arthur's attorney sought DNA evidence in an attempt to prove that Judy Wicker was raped by an intruder and only implicated Arthur to protect her parole chances. Prosecutors dismissed the intruder scenario and the appeals courts upheld their position.

In a statement, Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project, urged Riley to use the next 45 days to allow DNA testing on evidence from Arthur's trial.

"Gov. Riley said last week that DNA testing was only a tactic to delay this execution. It's not. Now that the execution is delayed for other reasons, DNA testing should be started immediately," Neufeld said.

On the Net

www.doc.alabama.gov/execution.asp

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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