Mostly the system works, sometimes it doesn’t
By By Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
Is this Mayberry…or what?
Now we know one of the reasons why Gov. Bob Riley, the courts, and prosecutors have not ordered DNA testing in the case of Death Row inmate Tommy Arthur, who has been within hours of execution on three separate occasions, including last week.
The state has admitted that evidence, utilizing a rape kit and collected at the scene of the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker, Jr. in Muscle Shoals, has been lost. Arthur and the victim’s wife, Judy Wicker, were convicted of the murder. Judy Wicker originally claimed that a black, male intruder in their home killed her husband and raped her.
Arthur was convicted twice but those convictions were reversed both times on technicalities. At those two trials Wicker testified about the black intruder and the rape. In the meantime Wicker was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but changed her testimony in Arthur’s third trial, implicating him in the killing. She testified she had sex with Arthur shortly before he killed her husband. She also testified she paid Arthur $10,000 to perform the execution. Arthur was convicted a third time and that conviction to this point has been upheld by the courts. In return for her cooperation Wicker was released on parole after serving ten years.
The importance of the DNA testing is that it could be a link in the search for the truth in this case. With the rape kit available DNA testing could likely determine if Wicker’s testimony was truthful.
Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw, who heads the state’s capital litigation section, says he has requested the rape kit from local authorities in Colbert County and the state’s Forensic Lab and has been told it can’t be located. The Colbert County District Attorney says he won’t look for it until ordered to so by the appropriate authorities.
The governor has offered up several excuses for not ordering the DNA testing, for which he clearly has the authority, first claiming a lack of authority, that he shouldn’t substitute his judgment for that of the judge and jury and later saying there was no evidence to test. Bingo, he finally got it right.
Arthur’s lawyers said the loss of the DNA evidence is astounding. However, several state and federal courts have ruled that even favorable DNA tests for Arthur would not prove his innocence and that he had missed deadlines for requesting such evidence.
Yet another bizarre twist
The most recent twist in the Arthur saga came last week when an inmate named Bobby Ray Gilbert, serving life at the St. Clair Correctional Facility, claimed in an affidavit that he was having an affair with Judy Wicker and that she paid him to kill her husband. Attorney General Troy King said Gilbert’s statement is “riddled with inconsistencies.”
It then became a week of dueling affidavits as Wicker said in a sworn statement that she does not know anyone by the name of Bobby Gilbert, who would have been about 16-years-old at the time of the murder. Then Wicker accused Arthur’s daughter, Sherrie Stone, of offering to pay her to testify that Arthur is innocent. Stone denied that, saying she told Wicker she just “wanted her to tell the truth.”
Following all of this activity, the State Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, postponed the execution on July 30, which it had set for July 31 at 6 p.m. Arthur’s lawyers have filed several post-conviction motions, including the DNA request, in Jefferson County Circuit Court, the site of his final conviction.
Arthur had murdered before
The Wicker case wasn’t Arthur’s first murder conviction. In 1977 he was convicted of killing the sister of his common law wife in Marion County. In that shooting he also wounded another woman. After pleading guilty he was sentenced to life, but by 1982, at the time of the Wicker killing, he was at a work-release center in Decatur.
While awaiting his first re-trial at the Colbert County Jail Arthur somehow obtained a gun, shot a guard, and escaped. The guard survived, but local legend has it that following the escape one of his former lawyers went into hiding.
Arthur ended up in Knoxville, Tenn. where he robbed a bank of $9,000 and abducted an elderly woman and her vehicle. He was later captured outside a Knoxville motel with another stolen vehicle. He was found guilty of the bank robbery and received a 30-year sentence.
James A. “Jap” Patton, the Colbert DA who prosecuted the first Arthur trial, called Arthur “a legend in his own mind,” and adds that “a lot of people will not believe it (the execution) until it happens.”
Tommy Arthur’s battle to game the system and stay alive, may not be legend, but it certainly has been an extraordinary saga.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent and a graduate of Sheffield High School where he finished a year ahead of Tommy Arthur.