Washington – The first time he was scheduled to die, Tommy Arthur invited his family to death row to say goodbye.
He did that again and again for his next five dates with death, but each time a stay of execution meant that he evaded the lethal injection. By the seventh time, he stopped inviting relatives: it was simply too painful.
Nicknamed the Houdini of death row, 75-year-old Arthur was scheduled to be strapped to a gurney and wheeled into the execution chamber late on Thursday, his eighth – and possibly final – rendezvous with Alabama’s capital punishment system.
Arthur was first sentenced to death back in 1983 for a murder he denies committing. Since then, the southern US state has executed 58 people, although Arthur has managed to evade his own final sentence. The last time, in November of 2016, he was granted a stay of execution just minutes before he was due to be strapped down for the fatal injection.
His case has angered both opponents and supporters of the death sentence: the former see his endless run-ins with execution as a form of psychological torture, while those who support the sentence see Arthur and his legal team as constantly playing the system to cheat justice.
“Thomas Arthur is an escape artist,” said Janette Grantham, director of the advocacy group Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL). “He has used every trick in the books to manipulate the courts for over 34 years. He has used every trick possible to manipulate the public into believing he is innocent.”
“Hopefully Houdini’s bag of tricks is empty and he is finally going down. No Houdini no more,” she said as Arthur was scheduled to be put to death at 18:00.
Arthur was found guilty of conspiring with his then-lover Judy Wicker to murder her husband Troy so that she could cash in on his life insurance. She was accused of paying Arthur $10 000 for the hit.
Arthur had already served five years for the 1977 murder of his sister-in-law and was out of jail on work release at the time. He admitted to the previous killing, which he says was an accident and blames on being drunk. But he has always denied murdering Wicker.
Troy Wicker’s niece told Alabama media that the execution would give surviving family members closure after decades of pain.
“There are no words to describe the living hell that this has been for the Wicker family. We are hoping and praying that the execution is not delayed any further,” Vicky Wilkerson told AL.com.
“Our family deserves closure and justice for the loss of [Wicker] and the nightmare that we have lived through,” she said. “Tommy Arthur placed our family through a living hell for a pathetic $10 000 payout.”
Arthur’s lawyers have demanded that modern forensic testing be done on the original crime scene evidence, and have challenged the injection method to be used in his latest execution on Thursday. The drug to be used on Arthur took 13 minutes to kill a man last December in Alabama.
His lawyers have also requested that witnesses be allowed to keep their mobile telephones during his execution. That petition was rejected Wednesday by a court of appeal, but his lawyers have filed a last-minute appeal before the US Supreme Court.
The last time Arthur was due to be put to death, last November, he was granted an 11th-hour stay by the Supreme Court. Conservative chief justice John Roberts said that although he did not consider the case worthy of the court’s review, he agreed to a stay “out of courtesy” to the four judges who did.