Alabama Executes 75-Year-Old Tommy Arthur


The State of Alabama has executed Tommy Arthur, 75, after he spent 34 years on death row.

Tommy Arthur’s case was marked by a history of prosecutorial misconduct, the denial of adequate defense counsel, and questions of innocence. His first two convictions in the 1982 killing of Troy Wicker in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, were overturned on appeal because prosecutors introduced illegal evidence and made improper arguments at trial. After he was convicted a third time in 1991, he had no lawyer to challenge his conviction in state postconviction proceedings.

Alabama is the only state in the country without a state-funded program to provide legal assistance to death row prisoners.

In 2008, the Alabama Supreme Court stopped his execution so that allegations of innocence could be considered.

Mr. Arthur had seven previous execution dates, several of which were stayed within two days of his scheduled execution.

His was one of the lead cases challenging the propriety of Alabama’s lethal injection protocol. The executions of Christopher Brooks and Ronald Smith last year renewed questions about the efficacy of the drugs the state used in Mr. Arthur’s lethal injection. The Supreme Court stayed Mr. Arthur’s execution in November pending a review of his claims challenging Alabama’s method of execution but declined to hear his case in February. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing that Mr. Arthur “deserves the opportunity to have his claim fairly reviewed in court” to determine whether the protocol could result in “prolonged torture on a medical gurney.”

Mr. Arthur’s state and federal appeals challenging the constitutionality of the scheduled execution were denied yesterday. The Supreme Court temporarily halted the execution before denying review shortly before 11 p.m. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent that she “continue[s] to doubt whether midazolam is capable of rendering prisoners insensate to the excruciating pain of lethal injection and thus whether midazolam may be constitutionally used in lethal injection protocols . . . Here, the State has—with the blessing of the courts below—compounded the risks inherent in the use of midazolam by denying Arthur’s counsel access to a phone through which to seek legal relief if the execution fails to proceed as planned.”

The execution began at 11:50 p.m. last night. Mr. Arthur was pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m. this morning.