MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Tommy Arthur had his execution postponed seven times since 2001, so much delay, that the rights of the victims lawyers mockingly call him the “Houdini” of death row. He says that he is innocent and is fighting for an eighth stay of execution, but he is losing optimism: “They are going to kill me.”
Arthur, now 75, is scheduled to be killed at 6 am CDT Thursday for the 1982 murder-for-hire slaying of Troy Wicker.
Wicker’s wife, Judy, initially told the police she came home and was raped by a black man who shot and killed her husband. After her conviction, she changed her story and testified that she had discussed the killing of her husband Arthur, who wore a wig and painted his face in an attempt to look like a black man.
But he is clear: “I did not commit that crime,” he said during a recent phone interview from the prison.
“I won’t give up ’til I draw my last breath. I won’t give up”, he said.
When the police found Troy Wicker shot through the eye in his bed on Feb. 1, 1982, Arthur was already in a prison work-release program for the 1977 killing of his sister-in-law. He admits to the crime, but says that he only meant to scare her by firing a shot over her head.
Police first looked to Arthur as a tip came in saying a work-release inmate had a stack of $100 bills. Arthur said that he won money in a poker game. But the researchers said they also found phone calls between Judy Wicker and Arthur.
He was sentenced in 1983, but the conviction was quashed. In anticipation of new research, he escaped from prison in 1986 by the inclusion of a guard in the neck with a gun and forcing the other guard to his cell door. He remained a fugitive for more than a month. A second conviction followed and was also fallen, but a third conviction stuck.
In each trial, Arthur — in the first instance, to the surprise of his lawyers — judges asked to give him the death penalty. The decision was strategic, he said, to appellate review.
The state set the execution dates for Arthur, in 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2016. All delayed as a pro bono legal team fought his conviction. Arthur has multiple implementation delays, partly because his lawyers have pursued an appeal with the argument that lethal injection procedures would be painful, because he suffers from a heart condition.
“He is a Houdini,” said Janette Grantham, director of the Victims of Crime and Leniency. “He always finds a way to escape.”
The many delays are painful for Troy Wicker family, Grantham said, including one of his sisters, who died of cancer soon after Arthur’s last stay of execution.
“I consider that he killed her, because she just fought so hard for justice for her brother, and it never came,” said Grantham
Arthur says that there is no physical evidence linking him to the scene and that Judy Wicker changed her story as a “get out of jail free card”. His defense has asked for modern DNA testing on the wig the killer wore, with the argument that the prosecution of the case “fall apart” if someone else’s DNA. Judy Wicker’s rape kit could not be found to be tested.
He has appealed to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to intervene.
Arthur ‘ s recent legal challenges are largely focused on the state of the method of implementation, including the use of the sedative midazolam, to make prisoners unconscious. The state is the last execution with midazolam took longer than expected, and the prisoner coughed for the first 13 minutes of the procedure.
In 2016, Arthur minutes away from execution when the Supreme court of the V. S. gave him an unexpected reprieve.
“We were fixing to go in the room and they were going to move the needle in my arm,” he said.
When he asked for a photo of his four children on the back of his Bible so that he could watch them when he died. The request was denied. They are not expected to witness his execution Thursday.
“I would like to publicly apologize to my children, all of them,” he said. “I want to offer my apologies for not being the father I should and could be. I failed as a father.”