USA: 65-year-old faces execution despite national 'moratorium' and DNA tests doubt

Thomas Arthur set for 6 December execution

A man in the state of Alabama in the United States is facing execution this week (Thursday 6 December) despite an unofficial ‘moratorium’ on executions in the country pending a US Supreme Court examination of the legality of lethal injections.

Thomas Arthur, who is 65 and has been on death row for most of the last 25 years, was convicted and condemned to death for the 1982 murder of a man called Troy Wicker in north-west Alabama.

Mr Arthur has always protested his innocence and is calling for the state authorities to conduct modern DNA tests on crime scene evidence which he maintains would substantially undermine the case against him.

However, despite Arthur having had his conviction overturned on two earlier occasions because of the improper admission of evidence, and despite the fact that no physical evidence links Arthur to the crime scene and that his conviction rests solely on disputed circumstantial evidence and dubious testimony, the Alabama authorities are refusing to allow DNA testing.

Amnesty International has issued an appeal ( www.amnesty.org.uk/deathpenalty ) on Arthur’s case and its members are contacting the Alabama authorities expressing concern that Alabama has re-scheduled the execution despite recent moves across the USA to halt executions until the Supreme Court has considered the lethal injection issue. The organisation has also called for Mr Arthur to be allowed the DNA tests.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The state of Alabama should halt Thomas Arthur’s execution.

There is growing evidence that lethal injections cause prisoners prolonged suffering up to the moment of death and it is extremely worrying that Alabama appears to be heedlessly pressing ahead with Mr Arthur’s execution.

“A halt would allow time for Mr Arthur to have the DNA tests that could still prove his innocence while also allowing the Supreme Court time to rule on the legality of death by lethal injection. Instead, a hasty execution this week would shame the state of Alabama.”

Earlier this year Amnesty International published a report detailing a series of botched lethal injection executions. Some prisoners have endured prolonged deaths of over an hour, while others have gone into convulsions or suffered skin burns or bloody “cut-down” operations as execution staff frantically sought to find veins.

Additionally, there are growing concerns centring on the question of whether the lethal injection’s cocktail of drugs can result in a prisoner being put into a “chemical straitjacket” - conscious but totally paralysed and unable to move or cry out while suffering excruciating pain and extreme mental suffering before death.

Amnesty International, which is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances, continues to press the US authorities to suspend all executions as part of a process that would result in permanent abolition.

In the past 30 years the US has executed more than 1,000 people (38 of these in Alabama). At the same time, over 100 people have been exonerated from death row, and DNA testing has played a part in several of these cases.

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