Alabama Governor Has A Chance Today to Do The Right Thing
He Can Order DNA Testing in a Death Penalty Case
Alabama’s Republican Governor Bob Riley has a chance today to do the right thing for once in his political career.
But he may find it difficult in his black heart, due to political pressure from the Christian Right for Republicans to be tough on crime and pro-death penalty.
It is one of those strange ironies in American politics that those who fight the hardest for “life” in the case of unborn babies seem to be the most ardent supporters of “death” when it comes to accused criminals – not to mention their support of American wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.
In the case of Thomas Douglas Arthur, who is scheduled to die tonight by lethal injection in Alabama’s famous Holman prison for the murder of Troy Wicker Jr., 35, who was shot in 1982 through the right eye while he slept in his home in Muscle Shoals, Riley seems intent on doing the wrong thing.
While Arthur’s case has not drawn the level of protest of some in the past, in part perhaps because he is white, the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International did call on Governor Riley to delay the execution.
So far he has refused, and even the conservative Birmingham News, which has sung Riley’s praises for the past five years, has taken him to task on this issue.
The U.S. Supreme Court has signaled an interest in potentially overturning lethal injection as the primary method for sending death row inmates to their final breath, agreeing to take up two Kentucky cases. The defendants in those cases both argue that the pain that goes along with lethal injection’s three-drug cocktail constitutes unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had a chance to weigh in on this one, but the justices balked.
Governors in many states have ordered DNA testing in similar death penalty cases, including George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas and his brother Jeb as governor of Florida.
But for reasons he can only know in his heart, Riley has refused. Some anti-death penalty activists say this constitutes political murder.
“What we are witnessing on September 27 is not an execution, but is a murder,” Justice Denied Publisher Hans Sherrer says.
Part of the problem is that unlike 42 other states in the Union, Alabama does not have a law requiring post-conviction DNA testing. So here, the decision is left to the governor.
Riley could have ordered DNA testing in Arthur’s case a couple of weeks ago without even delaying the execution date, according to the national Innocence Project, which fights the death penalty all over the country.
And in this case, even family members of the man who was killed would like to see the DNA evidence pursued.
“I would like to see this evidence subjected to DNA testing,” Peggy Wicker Jones said in a statement made public Aug. 21. “I would like to have as much information as possible about what happened on the day my brother Troy was murdered.”
Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld called it “unconscionable” that Riley would not insist on using the best science available to determine the truth before putting inmates to death.
We have long said that the state should not be in the business of killing people for any reason and urged the U.S. Supreme Court to once again overturn the death penalty as unconstitutional as it did in the 1960s. Bringing it back in the late 1970s was a mistake for a civilized society held up as a beacon of freedom for the world, especially since virtually all of the evidence shows the death penalty is no deterrent to violent crime and actually costs more to administer than a life sentence.
But at the very least, if the state is going to be in the business of killing convicted criminals, it should use every means at its disposal, including the best science on DNA testing, to avoid any chance of putting innocent people to death.
Governor Riley, are you listening? Only you can do the right thing in this case.
© 2007 – 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.