News 12.06.07

Innocence Project Calls on Governor to Order DNA Testing in Alabama Execution Case Halted by U.S. Supreme Court


In letter and national web-based campaign launched today, Innocence Project says DNA testing could resolve serious questions in case of Thomas Arthur



(MONTGOMERY, AL; December 6, 2007) – On the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court order stopping the execution of Thomas Arthur based on a challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injections procedures, the Innocence Project today renewed and broadened its calls for Alabama Governor Bob Riley to order DNA testing that could prove Arthur’s guilt or innocence.

The Innocence Project, which has pressed the case with Riley’s senior staff for months, wrote to Riley today asking for DNA testing. The Innocence Project also launched a web-based campaign today, mobilizing thousands of people in Alabama and nationwide to write to Riley and urge him to order DNA testing in the case. To see the online campaign, go to www.innocenceproject.org/testing-for-tommy.

Since August, the Innocence Project has been requesting DNA testing in the case but Riley has refused. In today’s letter, Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld urged Riley to immediately order testing in the case, while the execution is stayed.

“Now is the time to act. As we have stated repeatedly to your office — including in a letter we sent over a month ago in response to your office’s request for guidance, to which your office has yet to respond — such DNA testing has the power to establish to a scientific certainty whether or not Thomas Arthur killed Troy Wicker,” the letter says. “A failure on the part of your office to order DNA testing is morally unjustifiable.”

At the end of August – 14 weeks ago – the Innocence Project formally asked Governor Riley to order DNA testing in this case. The organization again requested DNA testing in September (12 weeks ago) and in early November (four weeks ago). DNA testing in the case can be completed within four weeks. Had the governor acted on the Innocence Project requests over the summer, or on any of the subsequent requests, DNA testing would be complete today, and the serious questions about Thomas Arthur’s guilt or innocence could be resolved.

The Innocence Project, which does not represent Arthur and does not have a position on his guilt or innocence, has said for several months that DNA testing in the case could show whether the initial story from the victim’s wife was, in fact, accurate. (She initially claimed a stranger – someone other than Arthur – broke into their home, raped her and killed her husband. Police suspected she was lying, and she was charged and convicted in her murder. She then changed her story and testified against Arthur in order to be released from prison earlier.) Several pieces of evidence – the victim’s wife’s blood-stained clothing, a rape kit collected from her after the crime, and hairs in the victim’s wife’s car – could be subjected to DNA testing. The testing could show that her testimony against Arthur was false; hers was the only testimony linking him to the crime. For example, it’s possible that the testing could show that her original story was true and that she was raped, and the DNA profile from evidence in the rape could be entered in the federal DNA database and yield a hit to a man matching her initial description of the intruder at the couple’s home.


Following is the text of the Innocence Project’s letter to Riley this morning:

December 6, 2007

By Facsimile and Overnight Mail

The Honorable Bob Riley

Governor of the State of Alabama

State Capitol

600 Dexter Avenue

Montgomery, AL 36130

Re: Thomas Arthur

Dear Governor Riley:

As you know, yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a stay of today’s scheduled execution of Thomas Arthur. That stay is likely to remain in place until the Supreme Court decides the lethal injection issue in Baze v. Rees, which could occur anytime after arguments in the Baze case are heard in January. Though you publicly stated months ago that you did not want to order DNA testing that would delay the execution, you inexplicably failed to order testing during the 45-day stay that you issued on September 27, 2007. The Supreme Court stay affords you yet another opportunity to allow DNA testing to go forward without causing any additional delay to the execution.

Now is the time to act. As we have stated repeatedly to your office — including in a letter we sent over a month ago in response to your office’s request for guidance, to which your office has yet to respond — such DNA testing has the power to establish to a scientific certainty whether or not Thomas Arthur killed Troy Wicker. The conviction in this case rests almost exclusively on the inherently unreliable testimony of a witness who testified in exchange for release from prison, and it is universally accepted that DNA constitutes the most reliable form of evidence. Moreover, DNA testing has only three possible outcomes, which can serve only to benefit the state. First, it can confirm Thomas Arthur’s guilt and put to rest any lingering doubts. Second, it can simply provide no new information at all. Or third, it can prove Thomas Arthur’s innocence and possibly even identify the real killer, preventing the state from erroneously executing an innocent man and eliminating the danger from the real killer remaining at large. A failure on the part of your office to order DNA testing is morally unjustifiable.

Sincerely,

Peter Neufeld

Olga Akselrod

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