Few people can say they’ve dodged death. Thomas Arthur has done it seven times.
The Alabama death row inmate has survived seven execution dates since 2001. Arthur, now 75, is fighting for another reprieve with just hours until he’s set to be put to death for the eighth time on Thursday at 6 p.m. CT.
Arthur was convicted in the 1982 murder-for-hire slaying of Troy Wicker. Wicker’s wife, Judy, initially told police she came home after taking her children to school and was raped by a black man who shot and killed her husband. After she was convicted of Wicker’s murder and sentenced to life in prison, Judy changed her story and testified that she hired Arthur, her lover, to kill her husband and that he did so wearing a wig and makeup in an attempt to look like a black man.
Although he maintains his innocence, Arthur has asked for the death penalty at each of his three trials -- a strategy aimed at opening up more appellate review, he said.
“I did not commit that crime,” Arthur told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview from Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. “I won’t give up ‘til I draw my last breath. I won’t give up.”
The Alabama Department of Corrections set execution dates for Arthur in 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2016, but all were postponed as a pro bono legal team challenged his conviction. Arthur’s attorneys say there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Judy’s rape kit cannot be found to be tested, and defense attorneys have asked for modern DNA testing on the wig the killer allegedly wore.
“Neither a fingerprint nor a weapon, nor any other physical evidence connects Thomas Arthur to the murder of Troy Wicker,” Suhana Han, a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell law firm in New York City, which is representing Arthur pro bono, said in a statement to ABC News on Thursday. “Time and again, Mr. Arthur has been denied access to critical evidence, including a rape kit from Mr. Wicker’s wife, Judy Wicker, which the State of Alabama says was lost. A wig that all parties agree Mr. Wicker’s killer wore could prove Mr. Arthur's innocence, yet Alabama has refused to allow DNA testing with modern technology at no cost to the State. If the State executes Mr. Arthur on May 25 as planned, he will die without ever having had a meaningful opportunity to prove his innocence -- an outcome that is inexcusable in a civilized society.”
Arthur’s latest legal challenges have largely focused on Alabama’s method of execution, including the use of the midazolam to render inmates unconscious before heart-stopping drugs are administered. The state’s last execution using the controversial sedative took longer than expected as the inmate, Ronald Bert Smith Jr., coughed, heaved and moved his body for the first 13 minutes of the procedure, according to court documents that cite an eyewitness account.
“On May 25, 2017, the [Alabama Department of Corrections] intends to use the same failed protocol it used to execute Mr. Smith on Mr. Arthur,” Arthur’s defense attorneys argue in court documents.
In light of these recent executions, the defense attorneys claim the state has “actual knowledge that its protocol is likely to result in an agonizing execution -- yet it has conducted no comprehensive review of its procedures and stubbornly insists that it can proceed with Mr. Arthur’s execution using the same torturous protocol.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall called Arthur’s case an “egregious example of how a convicted murderer can manipulate the legal system to avoid justice.”
Janette Grantham, director of Victims of Crime and Leniency in Montgomery, Alabama, likened Arthur to "Houdini."
"For over 35 years, Thomas Arthur has used his bag of tricks to manipulate the appeals process and drag the memory of Troy Wicker through the sewers of our court system, all in the name of justice," Grantham told ABC News on Thursday. "Houdini should be terrified, for his bag of tricks will not be of any help when he goes down to his final resting place."
Amid a flurry of last-minute appeals to delay his seventh date with the executioner, Arthur's pro bono counsel on Thursday filed their first petition for a writ of certiorari. The petition asks the Alabama Department of Corrections if Arthur’s attorney, one of his designated execution witnesses, could have access to a telephone during his execution for the sole purpose of communication with the courts or co-counsel.
In the telephone interview with The Associated Press, Arthur appeared less optimistic as his next and potentially final execution date draws near.
“They are going to kill me this time,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.