Thursday, September 27, 2007

Arthur Thomas Updates

We have two updates regarding the execution of Arthur Thomas. The first is a press release from Alabama Governor Bob Riley.



Governor Riley Issues 45-Day Stay of Execution

MONTGOMERY – Governor Bob Riley granted a brief stay of execution to Thomas Arthur, a death row inmate who was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The Governor made the decision to grant a stay of 45 days and met with Commissioner Richard Allen of the Alabama Department of Corrections on Thursday morning.

“The evidence is overwhelming that Thomas Arthur is guilty and he will be executed for his crime. 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,” Governor Riley said. “It
is my desire that, as soon as the stay has expired, justice will be administered to Thomas Arthur. I have encouraged the Attorney General to make a motion with the Alabama Supreme Court for a new date of execution as soon as possible.”


Second is an editorial published on September 25, 2007 by The Birmingham News.

Riley fails test, again

THE ISSUE: Once again, Gov. Bob Riley has refused to order DNA testing that could shed light on a death-penalty case. This is a pattern that needs to be broken.

Unless courts step in or something else intervenes, the state of Alabama will execute Thomas Arthur. This much we know: That something else won't be Gov. Bob Riley.

For the second time in as many months, Riley has refused to delay an inmate's execution to allow for DNA testing that might shine light on the crime.

Riley's refusal is beyond disappointing, and it's beyond logic. The testing could have been ordered two weeks ago without even requiring a delay of the execution, according to the Innocence Project.

While there is some evidence implicating Arthur of involvement in the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker, there are certainly reasons to wonder if the crime went down as prosecutors claim. Even Wicker's family wonders what really happened and has expressed support for DNA testing that could shed some light on Wicker's death.

"I would like to see this evidence subjected to DNA testing," Peggy Wicker Jones said in an Aug. 21 statement. "I would like to have as much information as possible about what happened on the day my brother Troy was murdered."

The Innocence Project, the famed New York organization whose DNA work has cleared more than 200 inmates across the country, doesn't take the position Arthur is innocent. But it does argue the evidence in Arthur's case should be subjected to the best scientific testing available.

DNA testing, which had not been developed when Arthur was tried, might merely confirm his guilt. But it might also implicate someone else, someone who has so far not been held accountable for the slaying. Either way, it's a win.

Governors in other states have ordered DNA testing in similar death penalty cases. Among them was a former Texas governor named George W. Bush, as well as his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

But not Riley.

In a statement criticizing Alabama's governor, the Innocence Project pointed out that 15 of those cleared nationwide by DNA testing were on Death Row and that some of them were days away from execution when they were exonerated.

"If any of those 15 people had been in Alabama, they would be dead today," Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld said last Wednesday.

Neufeld called it "unconscionable" that Riley won't insist on using the best science to determine the truth before putting inmates to death. Neufeld is right.

Before inflicting a punishment that can't be undone, the state of Alabama should be eager to order DNA testing in cases where any biological evidence is available. Indeed, such testing in old cases should be available by law, as it is already in 42 states.

Unfortunately, in Alabama, the test rests in the hands of the governor. Once again, Riley has failed that test.

Friday, September 21, 2007

UPDATE: Arthur maintains innocence, challenges lethal injection as execution date nears

Originally published by the Tuscaloosa News

Sep 19, 2007

By Dana Beyerle Montgomery Bureau

MONTGOMERY The daughter of condemned inmate Tommy Douglas Arthur pleaded Wednesday for a stay of her father’s scheduled Sept. 27 execution until a federal court can rule on a request to test DNA from the 1982 murder he was convicted of.

Sherrie Arthur Stone said DNA testing of evidence could exonerate her father, who in a recent telephone interview with the TimesDaily of Florence said he is innocent in the shooting death of Colbert County businessman Troy Wicker.

"All we’re asking, and ever have, is to test the DNA evidence that was found but never tested," Stone said. "Whether you believe in the death penalty or not, you should test the DNA evidence."

Arthur, 65, lost one federal appeal and is quickly running out of options as his scheduled date with the lethal injection chamber at Holman Prison nears.

Arthur was convicted three times and sentenced to die for Wicker’s death. Wicker’s widow originally said a black male broke into their home, raped and beat her, and when she came to her husband was dead.

She later testified that she hired Arthur to kill her husband. Arthur was convicted based on her testimony and on circumstantial evidence that was gathered before DNA testing was available.

Arthur lost one of his latest appeals when a panel of federal judges said Arthur waited to long to challenge the constitutionality of Alabama’s use of lethal injection.

In a 2-1 opinion and without addressing the merits of his appeal, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court ruling. The unpublished opinion was released Monday.

"There is no justification for Arthur’s failure to bring this lethal injection challenge earlier to allow sufficient time for full adjudication on the merits of this claim," the unsigned opinion said.

U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett dissented, saying the lower court made a mistake refusing to hear Arthur’s "challenge to Alabama’s lethal injection protocol" simply because he failed to file a claim as soon as the Alabama Legislature changed the method of execution to lethal injection.

Arthur can still go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which his attorney said he’ll do, and he still has an appeal in the 11th U.S. Circuit to test the crime scene DNA.

"We respectfully disagree and strongly believe that before Mr. Arthur is executed by lethal injection, the constitutionality of the method should be addressed," said attorney Suhana Han.

She said Alabama has hired an expert to review the drugs used in lethal injection and there is the pending federal trial in Montgomery over the legality of lethal injection.

Han asked what the harm was in waiting for the outcome of the trial and the testimony of Dr. Mark Dershwitz?

"How can the state of Alabama execute Mr. Arthur before a federal court rules?" Han asked. "Again, the point is we are trying to address the merits of a very important question, whether the state is planning to execute Arthur by an unconstitutional method."

Dr. Dershwitz’s contract to be an expert witness about Alabama’s method of execution was renewed by the legislative contract review committee earlier this month for the Attorney General’s Office earlier. He’s scheduled to be an expert witness in an upcoming trial over lethal injection in Montgomery federal court.

Arthur still has an appeal seeking DNA testing that wasn’t available when he was first tried. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court has not ruled on the DNA request.

The anti-death penalty group, Amnesty International, has taken up Arthur’s case, saying since he’s potentially innocent he should get a hearing on evidence that could raise doubts about his guilt.

Tom Smith of the TimesDaily in Florence contributed to this story.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Guest Shot: How Justice Gets Done in Spite of the Justice System

Commentary by PETE SHELLEM /
Of The (Harrisburg, PA) Patriot-News

Sometimes justice happens in spite of the justice system.

Sometimes it only happens when the people in the justice system get their noses rubbed in their messes.

On Tuesday, Lancaster County District Attorney Donald R. Totaro did the right thing by freeing Charles T. "Ted" Dubbs from a 12- to 40-year prison term in two sexual attacks he probably did not commit. Dubbs was sentenced in May 2002.

Wilbur Cyrus Brown, a serial rapist who confessed to 13 other rapes, including one on the same jogging trail where Dubbs supposedly committed his crimes, confessed to those attacks in November.

But Totaro had to spin things to portray his office as a well-oiled machine that immediately turned to fix an honest error when it came to their attention.

That’s not what happened.

The case first came to my attention when Brown pleaded guilty last November and was sentenced in Dauphin County Court. It came out at that hearing that Brown had confessed to crimes for which Dubbs was wasting away in prison still proclaiming his innocence.

When I asked about it afterward ­- assuming they were going to free an innocent man - I got the exchanged glances, awkward smiles and the "no comments."

It was after that I got the proverbial bug in the ear. The cops figured it was a no-brainer, but Totaro’s office didn’t want to hear it. Maybe it had something to do with the election year.

True, Totaro’s first assistant at the time, Heidi Eakin, pointed out the similarities between the cases. But when members of the task force investigating the serial rapes presented her with Brown's 60-page confession, she got her back up.

When I interviewed her in May, she was adamant that Dubbs was guilty and called his alibi defense "a joke." She speculated Brown was a copycat who committed 13 subsequent rapes after reading about Dubbs’s arrest and conviction.

Eakin said she specifically told the police not to reinterview the victims. When asked what she was doing to investigate the confession she told me "that’s not my job."

As an officer of the court, she was obligated to give the confession to the county public defender’s office. From there, it was forwarded to Dubbs.

Dubbs was on his own. Fortunately, he had the wherewithal to file a post conviction appeal on his own.

If you read the documents filed by Totaro’s office, they go to great pains to explain why Dubbs had to sit in prison for almost a year after his office had compelling evidence Dubbs was innocent. It also appears to be a response to an article published in The Patriot-News in May, an article Totaro called a "hatchet job."

Although he claims his office was investigating the case all along, his petition to release Dubbs says someone was assigned to look into it sometime after March. It was about that time I began asking questions about the case. The Lancaster investigators didn’t interview the detectives who took the confession from Brown until June and they were still under subpoena for a hearing that was supposed to take place Thursday.

Totaro’s filing also says Brown’s initial confession "was originally considered by those in law enforcement who were familiar with the case with a substantial amount of skepticism," because of inconsistencies with the crimes.

In fact, the lead investigators of the task force were the ones that took the confession. Even if some details were wrong, it wasn’t inconceivable that a man who they knew through DNA testing committed an assault on a woman in the same location a year later while Dubbs was in prison and then a dozen more might have committed these "signature crimes."

After duplicating much of the probe that was done at the time of Brown’s confession, Totaro’s investigators interviewed Brown last week and determined he was likely telling the truth. Not only that, he told them that he had written a letter at the time of his arrest admitting those crimes. It was addressed to state police Cpl. George Cronin and sent to his mother with instructions that it only be opened if he died.

To their credit, they located that letter, which seemed to be the clincher in the decision to drop the case against Dubbs.

Dubbs’ conviction was an honest mistake. Although the identification process was flawed, the victims were adamant he was their attacker and only expressed doubts after seeing the video of Brown’s detailed confession.

It’s fortunate it ended the way it did. In many of the wrongful convictions that have been exposed in recent years, dishonest cops were to blame.

If it weren’t for a few conscientious law enforcement officers, Dubbs might have rotted in prison for another decade.

PETE SHELLEM: 717-255-8156 or

Friday, September 14, 2007

Troy Davis Video Project

October 9th is Troy Anthony Davis’ birthday and in celebration of this occasion we’re asking all of his supporters worldwide to send him a video birthday message and to post that message on YouTube.

The Troy video project is simple. Using a webcam, camera phone, camcorder or any other recording device, simply record a positive video of 60-seconds or less whishing Troy a ‘Happy Birthday’ while reaffirming to the state of Georgia that the global support network behind Troy believes innocence matters

As you know, serious doubts of Troy ’s guilt have been raised in recent months, and we want to take this occasion to let the world know that innocence indeed does matter!

With so many Troy supporters around the world, we want these messages to be lively and creative. Feel free to sing it, rap it, play it, draw it, dance it, paint it, shout it from the roof-tops. What you say or how you say it isn’t important. What’s important is that you just say it!

Please keep these messages positive and refrain from bad language and controversial statements that could be viewed as inflammatory. We don’t want to upset people - we just want to show the world that Troy has global support in his fight for justice.

After you’ve recorded this message – please post it on YouTube using this link: and email the video to:

Let’s not only give Troy a "Happy Birthday," let us also speak loud and clear in one voice that Innocence Matters!

Gregory A. Joseph
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty