Saturday, March 31, 2012

Life & Death & Life & Death & Life & Death &

I wanted to write about Tommy Arthur.  
The good people of Alabama, the Yellowhammer State, are eager to kill him for the murder of Troy Wicker back in 1982.  Of course, he might not have done it.  But hey, why let bother you?  It doesn't seem to bother them.
Here's the thing.
There's really only one significant bit of evidence against him.  Wicker's wife, Judy Wicker, says Arthur did it.  Of course, she didn't say that in her first 7 statements.  She didn't say it, in fact, until she was doing time for paying a hit man $90,000 to kill Troy. That's when the state offered to let her out early if she'd finger Arthur.  She took the deal.
Then there's Bobby Ray Gilbert.  He confessed to the killing under oath.  But they did some DNA testing and it didn't match, so the courts figured he was lying.  After all, if DNA doesn't put someone at the scene, he must be innocent.
Oh, wait.  DNA doesn't put Arthur at the scene, either.
Anyway, there's more to test and more sophisticated testing and it can be done and should be done and Alabama won't even have to pay.  But of course it refuses.
Because, you know, 
OK, I don't know why, either.
And so, after 25 years on the row, 70-year-old Tommy Arthur was marching toward his 5th execution date in the last 11 years.  A very real one.  March 29.
But it didn't happen.  What did happen is some terrific lawyering.  The 11th Circuit granted a stay, refused a motion to reconsider, and that was that.
Of course, it had nothing to do with the DNA, nothing to do with whether Arthur actually killed Troy Wicker.  Nobody much seems to care about that.  No, the stay was over lethal injection and the use of pentobarbital as the first drug in the three-drug sequence.
Still, now there's time.
And that means a chance.
Which is what I wanted write about.  And then the Ohio's Attorney General's office issued the Capital Crimes Annual Report.*
It's not exactly bedtime reading, but it has it's own fascination.  There's a short "History of Ohio's Death Penalty," a review of the statutes, a bit on DNA and mental retardation, lists of who left the row and how.
But the meat of the thing is the "Case History Sheets," a page devoted to everyone who's been sentenced to die in Ohio with a "Summary of the Crime," a chart giving the dates of the standard procedural history of the case, and information about the current (as of Dec. 31, 2011) status of the case.  In 46 cases, that status is "executed by lethal injection."  In 22, it's "died of natural causes."** 
Of course, there's a certain bias to the thing.
Joe D'Ambrosio, exonerated, is almost certainly factually innocent. You wouldn't exactly get that impression from reading this "Summary of the Crime."
On 09/24/88, D'Ambrosio and two accomplices, Thomas Keenan and Edward Espinoza, murdered 19-year-old Anthony Klann at Doan's Creek in Cleveland. Mr. Klann was friends with a man the defendants were looking for because Keenan claimed the man stole his drugs. D'Ambrosio, Keenan and Espinoza kidnapped Mr. Klann at knifepoint, beat him with a baseball bat and stabbed him several times. Thomas Keenan also received a death sentence.
Then again, the state's never conceded error in D'Ambrosio's case.  Or, now that I think about it, in the case of anyone else they sent to the row.
Cause they're all guilty.
Even the innocent ones.
Which returns us to where we began.  With Tommy Arthur.  
Who's still alive.

*The official publication date is Sunday, April 1, but it's available now, as you can tell since I'm embedding all 354 pages of it here.
**That's as of Dec. 31, 2011.  The number is up to 23 now, since 75-year-old Billy Sowell died earlier this week.

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