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.