Andrew Cohen posts, "Another Death Row Debacle: The Case Against Thomas Arthur," at the Atlantic. Here's the beginning:
Another month, another man on death row, another excruciating case that illustrates just some of the ways in which America's death penalty regime is unconstitutionally broken. This time, the venue is Alabama. This time, the murder that generated the sentence took place 30 years ago. And this time, there is an execution date of March 29, 2012, for Thomas Arthur, a man who has always maintained his innocence. He also has the unwelcome distinction of being one of the few prisoners in the DNA-testing era to be this close to capital punishment after someone else confessed under oath to the crime.
Late last month, I profiled the wobbly capital conviction against Troy Noling in Ohio and there are remarkable similarities between it and the Arthur case. Both involve white defendants. Both include contentions of innocence and allegations of bad lawyering at trial. Both include a lack of physical evidence linking the defendants to the crime. Both include crucial witness testimony that borders the farcical. And both include state officials reluctant to permit sophisticated DNA testing that might definitively answer questions about whether the defendants committed the murders they will die for.
Arthur's attorneys are even willing to pay for that testing, the few thousand bucks it would be, and the testing could be completed by the execution date. It is here where prosecutors and judges lose me when they prioritize "finality" in capital punishment cases at the expense of "accuracy." It would cost Alabama nothing to let Arthur's lawyers do the testing. And it might solve a case that already has cost the state millions of dollars. Instead, Alabama wants to finally solve its Arthur problem by executing him. No matter how the new DNA test could come out, the state is more interested in defending its dubious conviction.
The Arthur case is also the topic of Andrew Rosenthal's New Yort Times blog post, "Is Alabama About to Execute an Innocent Man?"
Last Wednesday, Alabama scheduled the execution of Thomas Arthur for March 29. I object to the death penalty under all circumstances, but Mr. Arthur’s case is particularly troubling, because it’s possible that he’s innocent.
Mr. Arthur has been on death row since 1982 for the murder of Troy Wicker. He was not an upstanding citizen. At the time of the killing, Mr. Arthur was an inmate at the Decatur Work Release Center serving a sentence for a previous conviction (for second-degree murder). But his character shouldn’t distract us from the facts: No physical evidence linked him to the murder; no murder weapon was found; another man, Bobby Ray Gilbert, confessed to the crime under oath.
DNA testing of evidence in 2009 failed to place Mr. Gilbert at the scene, and a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled that he had lied. This logic seems flimsy. Remember, there’s no DNA evidence proving that Mr. Arthur committed the crime, either.
Mr. Arthur has requested advanced DNA testing of a wig worn by the killer, which could help establish his innocence (or his guilt, for that matter). The Alabama authorities have so far opposed additional testing—despite the fact that Mr. Arthur’s counsel has offered to pay for it and that it could be completed before his execution date.
Earlier coverage of the Tommy Arthur case begins at the link.
There is also other case news from Alabama, one involving the state's judicial override on death sentences and the other involving indigent defense costs. First, "Attorney weighs new legal challenge in Henderson case," by Jim Mustian of the Ledger-Enquirer, via the Macon Telegraph.
More than four months after a Lee County jury recommended life in prison for Gregory Lance Henderson, the convicted cop killer’s fate remains in the hands of Circuit Court Judge Jacob A. Walker III.
The judge will decide whether to accept the jury’s 9-3 vote against capital punishment or override it and send the Columbus man to Alabama’s death row. But defense attorney Jeremy W. Armstrong of Phenix City has been exploring a fresh legal challenge to Henderson’s eligibility for execution that could change the equation in an emotional case that shook the East Alabama law enforcement community.
Henderson was found guilty in October of running over and killing Lee County deputy sheriff James W. Anderson during a September 2009 traffic stop in Smiths Station, Ala. His sentencing, initially set for Jan. 31, has been postponed twice, most recently because Armstrong has sought to determine whether Henderson is mentally retarded and therefore legally immune to capital punishment.
The development could delay the case indefinitely if additional testing is warranted. Walker has scheduled a hearing Wednesday to discuss a new sentencing date and Armstrong’s recent motion for continuance.
Coverage of Alabama's practice of judicial override begins at the link. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the execution of those with mental retardation is unconstitutional; more on Atkins v. Virginia, via Oyez. As I often point out, mental retardation is now generally referred to as a developmental or intellectual disability. Because it has a specific meaning with respect to capital cases, I continue to use the older term. Related posts are in the mental retardation index.
"Alabama wants Amy Bishop trial judge to cancel order for payments to expert witnesses," is by Brian Lawson for the Huntsville Times.
Attorneys for the Alabama Comptroller's Office want the judge in the Amy Bishop capital murder case to vacate his orders for payments to defense expert witnesses and testing, according to a court filing today.
Bishop is set to go on trial March 19 on charges she killed three fellow University of Alabama in Huntsville biology faculty members and attempted to kill three other university employees on Feb. 12, 2010.
The trial date may be in some doubt as Bishop's court- appointed attorneys have asked Circuit Judge Alan Mann to delay the trial until the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rules on the state's refusal to accept Mann's orders to make payments for expert witnesses and related testing of Bishop by a neurologist.
Alabama Comptroller David White argues in the filing that a new Alabama law governing payments to expert witnesses does not cover the Bishop case since it began before the law was passed. Previously, Alabama law did not include prior payments to expert witnesses before a case ended. The practice has been criticized by defense attorneys who argue it leaves them either paying for experts out of their own pockets, or being forced to try and find experts, often not as well-regarded in their fields, who are willing to wait months or years to be paid.
The most recent coverage from Alabama concerned the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Maples v. Thomas.