The Wicker Murder: Execution Interrupted by a Prisoner’s Last Minute Confession

With only a couple days to execution, Thomas Arthur, 66, was given a postponement by the Alabama Supreme Court after another prisoner signed a sworn statement that he committed the murder. Bobby Ray Gilbert now claims that he killed Troy Wicker Jr. of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. What is astonishing is that, even with a confession from another man, the vote was still 5-4 on the Alabama Supreme Court to simply postpone the execution to investigated. Four state justices still wanted him to be killed without further questions asked — a position vigorously urged by the prosecutors.

The murder was committed 26 years ago. Gilbert is serving a life sentence for a different murder. Wicker’s widow served 10 years of a life sentence for hiring a man to kill her husband. She insists that she never met Gilbert and that she gave the money to Arthur.

Previously, the courts refused to delay the execution so that DNA testing could be completed.

It may be proven true that this is a sham as alleged by the prosecutors. Yet, a court should hear the testimony of the widow and weigh the details offered by Gilbert. When faced with a confession, it is barbaric to execute without making an inquiry. This is clearly very tough on the family of the victim. Arthur has already received three postponements in the past years. However, in meting out the ultimate punishment, society has an obligation to take every step to guarantee that such questions are resolved. The state should also allow for DNA testing as a general rule. Indeed, I remain unclear why such testing is not automatic in any death case with forensic evidence that can now be tested.

For the full story, click here and here.

6 thoughts on “The Wicker Murder: Execution Interrupted by a Prisoner’s Last Minute Confession

  1. Prof. Turley,
    I am also amazed that automatic DNA testing isn’t mandatory. However, we are talking about Alabama and the Justices had already scheduled their execution party. They don’t want all that food to go to waste! It does boggle the mind that any Supreme in any state would not quickly allow for a short stay to investigate a confession from another person. These so-called Justices who vote against DNA testing aren’t looking for justice. They have their man/woman. DNA testing that shows they have the wrong person would just complicate their simple lives. What a travesty.

  2. Rafflaw:

    I would love to see the various prosecutor organizations come out with policies that call for such automatic testing. Given the many wrongful convictions uncovered by DNA testing, it would show a commitment to the rule of law.


  3. Prof. Turley,
    It would be beneficial if the prosecutor organizations made a statement supporting mandatory DNA, but I am not holding my breath. It seems that it would be such an easy thing to do to ensure that you have the right defendant. Of course, I have also argued in the past for mandatory videotaping of any and all interrogations in police stations and while there has been some improvement in that area, there is still a long way to go. The only excuse for not videotaping is that the police do not want evidence of what goes on in interrogations of suspects. I wonder what they are afraid of. Have a great weekend.

  4. Clearly a case of, “our mind’s have been made up, don’t confuse us with the facts”. My only surprise about this story is that Thomas Arthur is Caucasian.

  5. I personally don’t understand death sentences anyway. I feel that if a person may be reasonably assumed not to be able to kill (or instigate another murder) while serving a life sentence, that killing that person does no real service to the public. In reality, it prevents us from correcting or mitigating the resulting damage from these kind of mistakes.

    That feeling aside, I am baffled at the unwillingness of certain judges to investigate further. To my mind there is no noble justification for excecution without pursuing all known and probable alternatives. I would be interested (and probably disturbed) to learn the reasoning behind the dissenting judges opinions.

  6. Death is final. If there’s even a hint that it’s the wrong person, investigate. I don’t see how it helps families to have an innocent person die. I also don’t see how those 4 judges who voted not to examine the evidence are not, at least potentially, cold blooded murderers. Like you and others Josh, I’m against the death penalty and I bet we all would be very disturbed to learn any reason any judge can give themselves for executing a potentially innocent person.

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