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‘Houdini’ of Alabama death row executed for murder-for-hire

ATMORE, Ala. – A man once nicknamed “Houdini” of Alabama’s death row after the turn of the previous seven execution dates was put to death Friday, capping years of litigation challenging the humanity of the lethal injection.

Tommy Arthur, 75, was pronounced dead at 12:15 pm CDT on Friday after receiving an injection at the state prison in Atmore, authorities said. Arthur was convicted for the killing of riverboat engineer Troy Wicker, who was fatally shot as he slept in his house.

“Thomas Arthur’s protracted attempt to escape justice is finally at an end,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement. “More importantly, tonight, the family of Troy Wicker begins the long-delayed process of recovery from a painful loss.”

Wicker two sons to witness the execution, but made no statement for the media.

Arthur maintained his innocence in recent interviews with the media as his lawyers had pressed the state’s governor to delay his eighth date of the DNA test of hairs collected at the crime scene. Arthur’s daughter, in a press conference held an hour after her father’s execution, repeated calls to say that there should be compulsory DNA testing of the evidence in all capital cases before any implementation is carried out.

Sherrie Stone, said she vacillated over the years about whether she thought that her father killed Wicker. “Sometimes I was convinced that he did that. Sometimes, I believed that he was innocent. …. Now, I will never know the truth.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey had rejected the request to stop the execution. Ivey’s lawyer wrote in a letter to Arthur’s legal team that it is “never in dispute” that the hairs are not from Arthur. General Counsel Bryan Taylor, said jurors knew about the hair, and still convicted Arthur of capital murder.

The long-running legal saga began on Feb. 1, 1982, in the northern Alabama town of Muscle Shoals along the Tennessee River.

Wicker’s wife, Judy, in the first instance 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 they had discussed the killing of her husband Arthur, who came to the house in makeup and an Afro-style wig and shot her husband. Arthur was in a prison work-release program at the time for the 1977 killing of his sister-in-law, a crime which he gives to commit.

Arthur had three trials, as his first two convictions were overturned. He escaped from prison pending his second trial by the inclusion of a guard in the neck. Arthur purposefully asked jurors to condemn him to the death to lead to more possibilities of appeal.

In his last statement, Arthur seemed to choke on tears as he apologized for his four children. “I’m sorry that I’m not you, as a father,” Arthur said. The prison officials said that he was not allowed to take a picture of his children in the lethal injection room, where he could see that if he lost consciousness.

Both sides of the death penalty debate have pointed to Arthur’s case as an example of what they see wrong in capital cases. Stone said her father was hampered in the early days of his case by inadequate legal counsel if he missed key deadlines. Lawyers with the state and the victim, the lawyers of the raised Arthur as a con man who is eternal disputes — after a pro bono legal team took his case to avoid the death penalty for years, resulting in excruciating delays for Wicker remaining family.

Arthur had a total of seven execution dates postponed.

“He is a Houdini,” said Janette Grantham, director of the Victims of Crime and Leniency, before the execution. Grantham, said one of Wicker sisters died not long after Arthur’s earlier date was remained and that they believed Arthur, in a way, “killed” her.

Arthur’s lawyers had filed a flurry of appeals to try to stop the eighth time of execution. They argued the state planned to use an ineffective sedative, midazolam, and said that the last inmate executed in Alabama was “wake up” by means of the procedure, because he coughed for the first 13 minutes of his execution and moved slightly after two awareness test.

The Supreme court of the V. S. allowed the execution to go until shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.

The state of the prison began administering the lethal injection drugs around 11:50 pm Thursday, just before the death warrant expired at midnight. Arthur’s hands seemed to vibrate a few times, but he had no cough or stitch, as some prisoners have done in executions with midazolam.

As the date approached, Arthur had acknowledged in a telephone interview Monday that his chances for another stay was on the decline.

“I am terrified, but there is nothing that I can do,” Arthur told The Associated Press.

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