[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----MO., ALA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jul 26 21:21:22 CDT 2008
MISSOURI---new execution date
Mo. Supreme Court to set execution date
The Missouri Supreme Court said Friday it plans to set a date for the
state's 1st execution since 2005.
The court announced it would issue a warrant to execute Dennis Skillicorn
on Aug. 27. Skillicorn was convicted of killing Richard Drummond in
Lafayette County in 1994.
Friday's announcement bumps Skillicorn up in the line of condemned men
awaiting execution in Missouri.
The court on Tuesday announced plans to issue a warrant to execute John
Middleton on Sept. 17. At the time of that announcement, that would have
been the 1st execution date since 2005.
Skillicorn and his wife, Paula, were part of a lawsuit this week by nearly
30 inmates, family and clergy members and legislators. The suit claims
Missouri's method of lethal injection violates state law, and asks for a
temporary halt on executions.
Scott Holste, spokesman for Attorney General Jay Nixon, said the office
would continue to oppose any effort by Skillicorn to stop the execution.
Kansas City attorney Jennifer Merrigan said her client did not commit the
murder. She said co-defendant Allen Nicklasson repeatedly confessed from
the beginning that he was responsible for the murder and that Skillicorn
didn't know anything about it.
"That statement was not allowed in at trial," she said Friday. "It was
never heard by the jury. That's something we think is really important."
She said Skillicorn is "very remorseful" for his participation in events
that led to the murder.
"Dennis has devoted a lot of time in prison to giving something back," she
(source: Associated Press)
'JUDICIAL MURDER'----Despite Doubts, Alabama Man Faces Execution
Thomas Arthur has been on death row since 1982. His execution is set for
July 31 -- although strong doubts remain about his guilt. The governor of
Alabama is refusing to allow DNA tests that may prove his innocence.
Twice already, Sherrie Stone has said farewell to her father for what she
thought was the last time. Twice she told him "my goodbyes," as she puts
it, in a prison in Atmore, Alabama. Twice she watched him shuffle off to
his cell on death row, where he has been waiting to die for 26 years.
Twice his execution has been postponed, only hours beforehand.
Next week, Stone, 47, will go to Atmore a 3rd and probably last time. An
8-hour drive from Florida, where she lives, to Alabama, where her father,
Thomas Arthur, has been incarcerated for murder since 1982. On July 31,
when he is finally to die by lethal injection, Stone will go through the
farewell motions yet again. It doesn't get any easier.
All the more because she believes in his innocence -- innocence her father
has maintained throughout. "This is cruel and unusual punishment," Stone
tells SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Cruel, unusual and frustrating. Not just for the
condemned. For his family, too."
More than 3,300 inmates are currently awaiting execution in US prisons,
203 in Alabama alone. Many protest their innocence. So does Thomas Arthur.
But his case is different, because there is plenty of potentially
exculpatory DNA evidence. Yet the governor of Alabama, the Republican Bob
Riley, is refusing to permit tests on it and is insisting that the
execution be carried out on the stated date -- even though the wrong man
Stone is not the only one who is dreading what she describes as a
"judicial murder." Amnesty International, too, has voiced "concerns" over
Arthur's execution and called the verdict -- which rests almost solely on
the testimony of a questionable witness -- "highly problematic."
Even the United Nations has weighed in. In late June, Philip Alston, the
UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,
criticized Alabama's governor. "Government officials seem strikingly
indifferent to the risk of executing innocent people and have a range of
standard responses, most of which are characterized by a refusal to engage
with the facts," Alston wrote in a scathing report. "It is entirely
possible that Alabama has already executed innocent people, but officials
would rather deny than confront flaws in the criminal justice system."
All in vain. "DNA evidence will not exonerate Mr Arthur," Riley's
spokeswoman Tara Hutchinson told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Barring court
intervention, the state plans to go ahead with the execution." Riley has
the final say on Arthur's fate.
Arthur's lawyer Suhana Han is one of those who are still hoping for this
last-minute court intervention. On Monday, Han and her colleague Jordan
Razza, who are representing Arthur pro bono, filed a motion with Alabama's
Supreme Court to force the DNA testing. "Time is running out," Han said to
Not a Model Citizen
The crime happened on February 1, 1982, in Muscle Shoals, a town on
Alabama's border with Tennessee. 35-year-old Troy Wicker was killed in his
sleep -- by a .22-caliber shot into the right eye. Wicker's wife Judy,
found bloody at the scene, testified that an African-American man had
broken into the house, raped and beaten her unconscious and killed Troy.
But it was Judy Wicker herself and Arthur -- the two, it turned out, were
having an affair -- who were convicted of the murder, in separate trials.
Judy was sentenced to life in prison, Arthur to death by electrocution.
Both maintained their innocence. Wicker also testified 8 times under oath
that Arthur had nothing to do with Troy's death.
And this is where things get messy. Arthur wasn't exactly a model citizen.
He had been serving a life sentence for a previous murder; at the time of
Wicker's killing, he was out on a supervised work release. The local paper
Daily Times described him as "a smooth talker with dashing looks," but
also as "a frightening person who held a grudge and was quick to engage in
Arthur's verdict in the Wicker case was overturned twice -- and confirmed
twice again, in new trials in 1987 and 1991. The last verdict was finally
upheld by the Supreme Court of Alabama.
It was in that last trial that Judy Wicker recanted her claim of innocence
and turned witness for the prosecution. She testified that she had paid
Arthur for the murder to cash in her husband's life insurance. In exchange
she was released from prison. The trial against Arthur, in which he
defended himself, lasted 3 days.
"There Was no Evidence Against My Father"
His defense was made additionally difficult by the fact that Arthur had
broken out of prison in 1986, shooting and injuring a prison warden in the
process. On the run, he held up a bank. He was caught after 6 weeks.
Sherrie Stone has no pleasant memories of her father back then. "I was 15
when he was arrested for the first time," she says. "Alcohol was always a
big problem." Arthur was violent, the family ended up on the streets,
Stone's stepmother ran off. Stone heard of Wicker's killing while she was
staying with her grandmother. "I always thought he was guilty, too. We
didn't speak for 15 years."
Only later Stone began studying the case files. "When I looked I was in
shock," she says. "There was no evidence against him."
Instead, plenty of evidence had been ignored. Especially DNA samples:
hair, blood, Judy Wicker's rape examination, a pillow, a wig -- all
preserved. Also fingerprints, phone records, witness testimony, even an
alibi: Nothing was admitted at trial. Two other suspects were never
questioned. One of the policemen who showed up at the crime scene was also
having an affair with Judy Wicker.
"Will The Truth Come Out Before We're Executed"
Ever since, Stone has been fighting for her father. The real estate broker
has started a Web site, has written petitions, has even filmed a video and
put it on YouTube. Last year, she spent so much time on the case that she
had to file for bankruptcy. Her husband, she says, "really doesn't know
how to react to it. All he does is support me."
Arthur, too, tried to challenge the verdict. Because Alabama doesn't
automatically provide public defenders, he was on his own. He worked from
his cell, without access to even a law library. When the deadline for his
last appeal came, he missed it.
Which is even more alarming as DNA evidence has become such a central
focus in reviewing verdicts, thanks to ever improving technology. Yet 7 US
states still don't require DNA testing, Alabama among them.
So far, 16 US death row inmates have been exonerated by DNA evidence,
according to the Innocence Project, a New York organization "to assist
prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing." A total of
3,014 inmates -- not all of them convicted murderers -- have written
letters to the Innocence Project asking for help. Currently, the group has
279 active cases. One of them is Thomas Arthur.
"We don't have a position on whether he is guilty or innocent," said staff
lawyer Jason Kreag to SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We simply think that he deserves
the opportunity to have the DNA evidence tested."
The Innocence Project sent a letter to governor Riley, signed by six men
wrongfully sentenced to die, who were later exonerated by DNA. "Each of
us", they wrote, "sat on death row, wondering whether the truth would come
out before we were executed."
Yet Riley refuses all appeals. So does his Attorney General Troy King, who
is also a high-profile member of Republican John McCain's Alabama Campaign
Team. "It is the appropriate time," he said in his last petition to set an
execution date, "for this Court to enter an order to execute Arthur's
Twice that date was postponed at the last minute. The last time was in
December, when the US Supreme Court debated the constitutionality of
lethal injection. In April, when the Supreme Court ruled it
constitutional, Arthur's execution date was set for July 31.
Poisonous Cocktail to Paralyze Muscles and Stop Heart
If the state prevails, Arthur's last moments will look something like
this. He will be strapped to a gurney. He will be given 100 cc's of sodium
pentothal, a barbiturate, followed by the rest of the poisonous cocktail
-- pancuronium bromide, to induce paralysis, and potassium chloride, to
stop the heart.
"I just talked to him yesterday," says Stone. "He's pissed off that they
are going to kill him for something he didn't do. But he's not giving up
In case he does lose the fight, his family will have another chore to do.
There are paternity issues to resolve, because it's unclear if Sherrie
Stone's sister is really Arthur's daughter. "We'll take care of that,"
says Stone cooly, "if the execution happens." How? By DNA testing.
(source Spiegel Online)
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