The US Supreme Court ordered a last-minute stay of execution Thursday as Alabama state officials were preparing to put Thomas Douglas Arthur to death by lethal injection. Arthur – who maintains his innocence – has been on death row for more than three decades after being convicted of shooting to death Troy Wicker as he slept in his home in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, court records showed. Prosecutors said Arthur’s girlfriend, Judy Wicker, paid him $10,000 to kill her husband.
The Supreme Court’s order did not state a reason for the stay of execution but had earlier ordered the state of Alabama and other states to review a controversial law that gives judges – rather than juries – the power to impose the death penalty.
Arthur’s defense lawyers had challenged the constitutionality of Alabama’s lethal injection method of execution on the grounds that it is cruel and unusual punishment. In their challenge, his lawyers claimed that midazolam, the first drug that is used in executions causes “excruciatingly painful and agonizing effects.”
International drug companies – many under EU pressure – have stopped supplying drugs used in lethal injections and many states have improvised lethal cocktails that often lead to complications that prolong the condemned man’s suffering.
Arthur’s latest scheduled execution followed three trials and another man’s confession to the crime. In all, Alabama had scheduled Arthur’s execution six times before Thursday.
Arthur had two convictions overturned on constitutional grounds, including improper introduction of evidence about a prior murder conviction. After his third conviction in 1991, he asked the jury to sentence him to death. Arthur’s former girlfriend, Judy Wicker told police a black man raped her, knocked her unconscious and shot her husband at their home.
In court, prosecutors had claimed that Arthur, who is white, disguised himself as a black man. At her trial, Judy Wicker denied Arthur was the killer but later changed her testimony during his trial, Arthur’s lawyers said. She was convicted of murder and paroled after 10 years in prison, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections.
In 2008, another inmate, Bobby Ray Gilbert, confessed to killing Wicker, but a state court held that Gilbert and Arthur had conspired to submit a fake confession. Limited crime scene testing found no DNA link to Gilbert or Arthur. Alabama lost a rape kit that might have cleared Arthur, his lawyers said.