Discussion:
death penalty news----ALA., MISS., LA., ARK., WASH.
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Rick Halperin
2017-05-22 13:22:26 UTC
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May 22



ALABAMA----impending execution

Alabama death row Inmate Tommy Arthur Pleads for 8th Reprieve


7 times, Tommy Arthur has escaped death. With his 8th execution date less than
a week away, he phoned from an Alabama prison to talk about the increasingly
slim chance that his lethal injection will be called off yet again.

"Until I take my last breath I'll have hope," Arthur, who has been on death row
for almost 35 years, told NBC News on Friday. "I don't know how to quit. I
don't know how to give up."

He has the paperwork to prove it. Sentenced to death for a 1982 contract
killing he insists he didn't commit, Arthur has filed a mountain of challenges,
many of them successful - at least in the short run.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted his last scheduled execution six months ago but
later declined to take up his case. More recent appeals have been rejected, and
while Arthur's attorneys are continuing to fight, the prospects for another
reprieve are growing dimmer.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey last month shot down a request for new, enhanced DNA
testing of a wig from the crime scene, which Arthur, 75, contends will prove
that someone else is responsible for the murder of Troy Wicker. She's
considering a request to test a hair he claims was collected.

"There is evidence in the evidence box that can be and should be DNA tested and
they are not doing it," he said. "I asked them, 'Please don't let Alabama kill
me without testing it.'

"Honest to goodness," said Arthur, who was found guilty by 3 different juries,
"I did not commit this crime."

Arthur's odyssey through the justice system began in 1977. That's when he was
sentenced to life for fatally shooting his sister-in-law through the eye. He
joined a work release program, and according to court records, began an affair
with a married woman named Judy Wicker.

By prosecutors' account, Wicker offered Arthur $10,000 to kill her husband,
Troy. Arthur dressed up as a black man, in an Afro wig, and shot the sleeping
man through his eye, prosecutors say.

Arthur and Judy Wicker, who initially claimed a burglar raped her and killed
her husband, were convicted at separate trials.

But Arthur's 1st conviction was overturned because the court found details of
the earlier killing were improperly disclosed during the trial. He was tried
and convicted again, and that verdict was tossed over a statement he gave to
police without a lawyer present.

At Arthur's 3rd trial in 1992, Judy Wicker testified and named him as the
hitman for the 1st time; she was paroled soon after. Arthur was convicted and
sentenced to death for a 3rd time - after telling the jury he wanted a capital
sentence because, he said, it would give him better tools to appeal the
verdict.

The 3rd conviction stuck - and the Alabama Supreme Court set execution dates in
2001, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2015 and 2016.

Each time, they were postponed, once after a fellow inmate claimed in writing
that he was the real killer, only to clam up on the stand during a hearing
where Judy Wicker again swore Arthur was the gunman.

Arthur is now the 3rd longest-serving death-row inmate in Alabama, where the
legislature just passed a measure that would hasten executions by speeding up
appeals. He has several pending appeals that have to be resolved before his May
25 execution date.

One challenges Alabama's lethal injection protocol, which uses the
controversial sedative midazolam, on the grounds that it will cause suffering.
It cites the December execution of Ronald Smith, who witnesses said heaved and
coughed for 13 minutes and moved his arm during a consciousness check.

"It's inevitable that I'm going to have some problems if they execute me,"
Arthur said.

Another appeal attacks the state's former sentencing scheme, which allowed
judges to overrule juries and impose death sentences and which the governor
just overturned.

Arthur, who has encyclopedic knowledge of his case, is most focused on another
avenue: his quest to have the killer's wig subjected to a new type of DNA
testing that could turn up genetic material that might have been missed by
earlier tests.

On April 26, the governor's counsel turned down that petition, saying it
"merely recycles the same request and contention made by Arthur for more
testing on a piece of evidence that has been shown to contain no DNA profile."

Arthur said he doesn't understand the state's reluctance. "Why won't they let
this testing take place? What would it hurt?" he asked.

His lead attorney, Suhana Han, said that "neither a fingerprint nor a weapon
nor any other physical evidence" links Arthur to the crime.

"If the state executes Mr. Arthur on May 25 as planned, he will die without
ever having had a meaningful opportunity to prove his innocence, an outcome
that is inexcusable in a civilized society."

An advocacy group called Victims of Crime and Leniency said the courts have
given Arthur enough 2nd chances over the last 3 decades.

"He's Houdini," said Janette Grantham, the executive director. "He escapes and
he escapes."

She said that for many years, she had been in contact with Troy Wicker's
sister, who showed up for several executions that were then called off at the
last minute.

"She died a couple of months ago so she won't make it to the final execution,"
Grantham said. "To me, that is very sad."

However the courts rule, Arthur said, he does not plan to apply for clemency;
in his view, it would amount to an admission of guilt.

"I'm not interested," he said. "I could have pleaded guilty to this in 1982 and
taken a straight life sentence but I'm not going to plead guilty to something I
just didn't do."

(source: NBC News)

**************

Alabama Prepares for May 25, 2017, Execution of Thomas Arthur


Thomas Douglas Arthur is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm CDT on Thursday, May
25, 2017, at the Holeman Correctional Facility in Attmore, Alabama. 75-year-old
Thomas has been convicted of the murder 35-year-old Troy Wicker on February 1,
1982, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Thomas has spent the last 33 years on
Alabama's death row.

In 1977, Thomas was convicted of murdering Eloise Bray West, the sister of his
common-law wife, after she refused to reveal the location of his wife. Thomas
received a life sentence for the this murder.

While serving time for the murder of Eloise West, Thomas Arthur joined a work
release program. Arthur, while on work release, began an affair with Judy
Wicker, wife of Troy Wicker. In 1982, Judy offered Arthur $10,000 to kill her
husband, to which Arthur agreed. Arthur acquired the ammunition for the murder
from an acquaintance, whom he told he was going to use the supplies to kill
someone.

On February 1, 1982, Arthur entered the Wicker resident wearing an "afro" wig
and in dark makeup to disguise himself as a black man. Troy was shot through
the right eye at close range with a pistol, which killed him instantly.

Judy told police that after dropping the kids off at school and arriving back
at the house, she discovered a black man in their home. According to Judy, the
man raped her and knocked her unconscious before killing her husband.

Police discovered discrepancies in Arthur's work release time and payment logs,
prompting an investigation. Arthur was not at his job on the day of the murder
and police discover $2,000 in cash in Arthur's personal belongings a few days
after the murder. Judy had paid Arthur from the $90,000 in life insurance she
collected from Troy's death. Police arrested Judy and Arthur for Troy's murder.

Judy was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her
husband. Initially, Judy claimed that Arthur was not involved in the crime.
Years after her conviction, she agreed to testify against Arthur at his trial,
in exchange for a reduced sentence. She testified that she paid Arthur to kill
her husband and strike her several times so that it would look like she was
also attacked. Arthur continues to insist that he is innocent of the crime.
Arthur was tried, convicted and sentenced to death on March 22, 1983.

This is Arthur's 7th execution date. All previous executions have been stayed
for various reasons, including in 2008, when a man named Bobby Ray Gilbert came
forward and confessed to the crime. Limited DNA testing failed to link Bobby to
the crime scene and a judge ruled his confession as lacking credibility.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has recently rejected a request by Thomas Arthur to
retest DNA evidence in the cast. Thomas is requesting that the wig worn by the
killer be retested. The state has argued that the wig was previously tested and
found to contain no traces of DNA. He has also asked the governor for clemency.

Please pray for peace and healing for the family of Troy Wicker. Please pray
for the family of Thomas. Please pray that if Thomas is innocent, lacks the
competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, that
evidence will be presented before his execution. Please pray that Thomas may
come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has
not already.

(source: theforgivenessfoundation.org)






MISSISSIPPI:

1st Court Appearance for 3 Teens in Shooting Death of Boy, 6----3 Mississippi
teenagers accused of killing a 6-year-old boy are scheduled to make their 1st
court appearances Monday morning.


3 Mississippi teenagers charged with capital murder in the shooting death of a
6-year-old boy are expected to make initial court appearances.

Nineteen-year-old Byron McBride and 17-year-olds Dwan Wakefield and D'Allen
Washington were arrested in the shooting death of Kingston Frazier. Authorities
say Frazier was found dead in his mother's car Thursday, hours after the
vehicle was stolen from outside a Jackson supermarket with the child inside.

A judge is expected to decide Monday whether to set bail and also will appoint
lawyers to any of the 3 who lack one.

A special investigator's sworn statement obtained by The Associated Press says
Wakefield told police that McBride stole the car and killed Frazier. Though all
3 are charged with capital murder, only McBride could face the death penalty,
authorities say.

(source: Associated Press)






LOUISIANA:

State officials struggle with no way to execute death row inmates


73 people sit on Louisiana death row - convicted of crimes so horrific that a
jury of their peers sentenced them to death. But as things stand, the state has
no way to execute them.

Over the past several weeks, Louisiana lawmakers have debated whether they
should end the practice of capital punishment entirely, citing their faith, the
costs of the program and whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent.

But to some extent, the question of whether to ban the death penalty is moot.
Louisiana finds itself in the same predicament as many other states with
capital punishment: It has run out of its supply of drugs for lethal
injections, and pharmaceutical companies whose drugs were being used for the
deadly cocktail have largely blocked further access. And, like other states,
Louisiana law details how the execution is to be carried out by lethal
injection, meaning the Legislature would have to pass a bill to allow the state
to kill the condemned using other methods, such as by electrocution or firing
squad.

"The state currently does not have a supply of the drugs to carry out the death
penalty," said Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the Department of Corrections.
Without access to those drugs, Pastorick says, "the state will not conduct
executions."

It's been seven years since Louisiana executed a death row inmate - Gerald
Bordelon, who was convicted of killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter. Bordelon
hastened his own execution by waiving his appeal.

Bordelon is the only person Louisiana has executed in the past 15 years. Before
that, executions occurred steadily if not routinely: Between 1983 and 2002, 27
people were executed in Louisiana. During that period of time, the longest lag
between executions was 2 years. In 1987 alone, 8 people were executed.

But Louisiana's lack of urgency in carrying out death sentences - which
distinguishes Louisiana from other law-and-order states like Texas and Oklahoma
- has been a frustration to at least 1 state lawmaker. Rep. Steve Pylant,
R-Winnsboro, said he's a proponent of the death penalty and believes it's an
effective deterrent to crime but not if criminals see the state has cold feet
about going through with it.

"We need to start executing folks," he said. "They say they can't get the
pharmaceuticals - well, then why can other states get them but we can't? If we
don't want to do lethal injections, we got firing squads, we got gas chambers,
we got other means."

Pylant ruffled feathers this week when he cast a game-changing vote in a House
committee to spike a bill that would abolish the death penalty. Pylant was a
co-sponsor of the bill and had previously said the state was wasting money if
it wasn't going to go through with executions. But after he voted against his
bill, which failed by a single vote, he said he had only attached his name to
draw attention to his concerns.

Since 1993, Louisiana law has only allowed for lethal injection as a means of
execution. Pylant said he wouldn't comment on whether he intended to propose
legislation next year to expand the ways the state can execute people.

As recently as 2014, the Legislature mulled ways to allow executions to move
forward. Former state Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, pitched a short-lived
proposal to bring back the electric chair, which is on display at the museum at
the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. After pushback from the Department
of Public Safety and Corrections, that legislation morphed into a bill that
would keep secret the sources of lethal injection drug providers and allow the
state to tap out-of-state pharmacies. The bills lost steam after two botched
lethal injections elsewhere in the country made national headlines.

The soonest Louisiana could execute anyone would be next year. A lethal
injection scheduled for convicted child-killer Christopher Sepulvado has been
delayed by the courts since 2014, after attorneys on his behalf filed a suit
challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty in Louisiana. In his
appeal, Sepulvado has requested to learn exactly how he'd be put to death in
light of botched lethal injections in recent years, and a lack of access to the
drugs.

The state has previously used lethal doses of pentobarbital, an anesthetic. But
in 2011, European drug manufacturers banned the export of the drug for lethal
injections.

Since then, states have moved to a drug called midazolam, a sedative commonly
used for colonoscopies, combined with hydromophone. That combination was
challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, after inmates sued saying the drug wasn't
strong enough to block the pain of the other lethal drugs in the injection.
Midazolam was the drug used in a handful of high-profile botched executions,
like Arizona's Joseph Wood, who strained in agony for two hours after receiving
the injection in 2014.

But in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled midazolam was not "cruel and unusual" in a
5-4 vote.

Some states, however, are still having trouble getting access to midazolam for
the use of lethal injections.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult for states to obtain drugs for
executions, and it's gotten to the point where some companies won't sell to
state prisons even for medical purposes because they're afraid the drugs will
be diverted for the use of executions," said Robert Dunham, executive director
of the Death Penalty Information Center.

In Arkansas, the state raced to execute 4 death-row inmates in April because
its supply of midazolam was set to expire.

Only 32 states still allow the death penalty. And of those states, lethal
injection is the most widely used means of execution; however, in some states,
electrocution, lethal gas and firing squads are still options.

Death penalty lives on in Louisiana after House committee rejects bid to end
practice

The death penalty lives on in Louisiana.

A 2015 report by Louisiana State Penitentiary officials recommended using
nitrogen induced hypoxia - which is a deficiency of oxygen - as an alternative
to lethal injection. A gas chamber was ruled out, but the recommendation
considered using a mask to deliver the nitrogen.

"The research reviewed suggests that this method would be the most humane
method and would not result in discomfort or cruel and unusual punishment to
the subject," the report said.

Dunham said he disagrees, noting that the effect is people are effectively
suffocated to death.

"The American Veterinary medical association won't even euthanize large mammals
with nitrogen hypoxia," he said. "Their guidelines on euthanasia won't allow
it."

Though a bill was rejected last week in a House committee to abolish the death
penalty, its sponsor Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said there could be a
glimmer of possibility for its revival.

He said there was a possibility the lone Democrat who voted against the bill,
Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, could ask the chairman of the committee for
reconsideration. Norton could not be reached for comment.

But Landry said it's a difficult and emotional vote, and he's not sure if he'll
put his colleagues through another debate.

"It's a very, very tough vote," he said. "It's literally about life and death.
I'm not sure whether I want to do this again."

(source: The Advocate)






ARKANSAS:

Morrilton pastor walks with man to death chamber----Msgr. Jack Harris tells of
prison ministry: 'You never execute the same man you convict'


Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Kenneth Williams. To most, the
names of the 4 death row inmates executed in a 8-day span in Arkansas during
April were just names in the news cycle, understood most prominently by crimes
they committed.

For Msgr. Jack Harris, who has worked in prison ministry for 43 years since his
ordination, these were not men defined by their crimes about 20 years ago.

"You never execute the man you convict. You never execute the same man that you
convict," Msgr. Harris told a crowd of more than 30 May 11 at St. John Center
in Little Rock. He was the guest speaker, sharing about his work in death row
prison ministry and answering questions, during the monthly meeting for Pax
Christi Little Rock, a chapter of the national Catholic social justice
organization that promotes peace.

Msgr. Harris, pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton, works as a chaplain
in the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, south of Pine
Bluff in Lincoln County. He is a crisis intervention specialist and has worked
with youth in juvenile courts.

Msgr. Harris explained that Arkansas is both a death penalty state and supermax
state.

"Supermax means you're locked down 23 hours a day in a one-man cell, it's a
little concrete box, a lighted concrete box is what it is. You don't control
when the lights go on, off," he said. "Some men spend literally years locked up
in there. You think just a minute what that does to a person mentally. That
type of isolation."

2 days a week starting at 7 a.m., Msgr. Harris walks the six cell blocks, 78
cells on each block, 3 tiers high.

It takes about 3 hours to speak with the 468 men and that includes about 20 to
30 meaningful conversations with inmates.

Vengeance

Msgr. Harris pointed to the 3 reasons he has heard most often in support of the
death penalty: a crime deterrent, protecting society and vengeance. In Arkansas
alone there are roughly 2,100 men and women in prison convicted of murder, and
only 30 of those are on death row.

"The men that I know, and I'm going to say 34 because I knew those 4 men who
lost their lives the past 2 weeks, I knew them all. Those 34 were not deterred
by the death penalty," Msgr. Harris said. "Those 34 were men who acted in the
moment; they didn't think about 'Gosh what is going to happen to me if I do
this.'"

In terms of protecting society, for the past 20 or so years, these men have
never been a threat. He said, "I know that we do not have the most vicious
murders in that unit on death row. But they had something they could bargain
with and got a reduced sentence," Msgr. Harris said.

The only reason that "holds water is vengeance," he said.

"I will never denigrate or minimize the pain that victims feel. The victim's
family, I don't ever want to pretend like that's not important," he said. "...
But I'm not quite sure the vengeance that comes from that should be what guides
our policy as a state."

Msgr. Harris said he has heard from many "high up state officials" that the
victims' families will receive "closure" by executing these men.

"There is no closure with this thing. We move to another level of it, but we
continue to work with it. It's a little unfair to use that language," he said.
"... Justice was served the day they were caught, convicted and sent to prison.
What you do to them after they're in prison, that's vengeance."

Seeking redemption

Much of death row ministry includes just merely talking to the men on the row,
from complaining about the food to their favorite sporting events. But always
on the horizon is the looming truth that they are destined to be put to death.

"A very privileged conversation to get to have with these guys is when they try
to figure out how to say, 'I'm sorry.' And they will talk about that," Msgr.
Harris said. "They will get frustrated about it too because how do you go to
someone whose loved one you murdered, very likely raped and kidnapped, and say
you're sorry. What they know is the words 'I'm sorry' mean nothing."

Death row inmates also "talk about how should we carry ourselves the night they
make us walk into that chamber."

As his spiritual adviser, Msgr. Harris witnessed Marcel Williams' execution
April 24 and stayed with those on death row when the other executions occurred
April 20 and 27. The executions, administered at the Cummins Unit, have changed
the makeup of the row.

"We lost one of the strongest men on the row as far as bumping up against other
people," to correct bad behavior, Msgr. Harris said of Williams, who was
Catholic. He added that he needs Jason McGehee, who was granted a stay of
execution, "because the man has learned how to navigate the prison system. He
mentors younger inmates; he'll bump up against people that need to change their
behavior. He's not an angel. He does not deny what he did. But we need Jason
McGehee inside this mega-carceral state."

Msgr. Harris also pointed out that there was a subdued feeling for both the
death row inmates and the staff. He praised ADC Director Wendy Kelley for
bringing "sensitivity" to the row.

"I am a fan of the department. I've worked for them for years. They are not the
cause of this; they just have to carry it out," he said.

It is unlawful to execute death row inmates who are or have become mentally
ill. Msgr. Harris said it would be wrong to execute someone immediately after
receiving a death sentence, but after 20 years, if the opposite is true, a man
changing from disturbed to "stronger and more spiritual," there is no reason to
execute.

"If you leave a man in prison for 20 years and he's no longer the same man who
committed the crime, do you really have a right to kill him?"

(source: arkansas-catholic.org)






WASHINGTON:

End costly limbo and repeal the death penalty----The state Supreme Court again
passed on a chance to overturn the death penalty. It is up to the Legislature -
if it has the courage to put it to a vote.


The death penalty in Washington is like a zombie, not alive or dead, yet
continuing to eat its way through precious resources in the criminal-justice
system.

Capital punishment is effectively dead as long as Gov. Jay Inslee is in office,
if he stays true to his word. Yet capital punishment is still alive on the
books - so exhaustive, expensive appeals of death sentences continue to lurch
on. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court, by an 8-1 margin, turned down an
appeal by death-row inmate Cecil Davis, who argued state law is
unconstitutional because it does not sufficiently protect against executing a
developmentally-disabled defendant.

The Supreme Court also passed on a chance to rule the death penalty itself
unconstitutional, as they have repeatedly. So eight men remain on an expensive
death row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, their sentences
in a limbo that gives no peace to victims' families.

The zombie status of capital punishment also gives no reprieve to prosecutors,
who must continue deciding whether to pursue the death penalty that may not be
carried out. It remained on the table for the alleged Burlington mall shooter
Arcan Cetin, but he died by suicide in jail before prosecutors announced a
charging decision. In many more recent cases, prosecutors declined - perhaps
influenced by the legal uncertainty, the apparent reluctance of some juries and
the extra $1 million or more that a death-penalty sentence adds to a murder
case.

The Seattle Times editorial board supports repeal of the death penalty because
it is an overly expensive, ineffective and immoral sentence. Civil society must
not kill its own.

Ending the death penalty can take 2 paths. The state Legislature has blocked
both.

In a bold act, the state's 39 county prosecuting attorneys asked the
Legislature to put the question of the death penalty on the ballot. Lawmakers
did not act.

The Legislature also has failed to act for decades on repeal bills. This year,
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane, chair of Senate Judiciary Committee and a
proponent of the death penalty, said he would consider holding a hearing on a
repeal bill - something he has not done before - if the Democrat-led House acts
first. He didn't promise he'd allow a vote, however.

House Judiciary Chair Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, declined to hold a vote in her
committee, arguing there was no point if Padden remained a roadblock.

That was a mistake, one that should not be repeated next year. According to
advocates for repeal, there are enough bipartisan votes in the House to pass an
abolition bill. This year, former Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican,
joined the call for repeal. At least 2 Republican senators, Mark Miloscia of
Federal Way and Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla, also publicly support repeal.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a proponent of repeal, argues that a vote in the
House could embolden previously unknown support among lawmakers. "You don't
know that reaction if you don???t take a vote," said Ferguson in February,
after Jinkins declined to hold a vote. "Right now, they have it easy. They
point fingers at each other. It's very frustrating."

The state Supreme Court won't end this zombie criminal policy, as they showed
again last week. The public wants bold leadership on important issues. A path
to repeal is through the Legislature, either this year or next - if they have
the courage to act.

(source: Seattle Times; Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate
Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Donna Gordon Blankinship, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins,
Jonathan Martin, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen
(emeritus).

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