'Houdini' US prisoner can't dodge death for eighth time

2017-05-26 15:17
An undated photo of Tommy Arthur. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP, File)

An undated photo of Tommy Arthur. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP, File)

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Washington -Tommy Arthur was executed late on Thursday after his eighth, and final, rendezvous with the US state of Alabama's capital punishment system.

The 75-year-old was given a lethal injection after the US Supreme Court allowed the execution to proceed by denying the inmate's stay requests.

Arthur's death ends a legal saga spanning more than three decades in which he became known by some as the Houdini of death row, managing to evade his final sentence seven times.

He was first sentenced to death back in 1983 for a murder he denies committing. Since then, the southern US state has executed 58 people - an end Arthur had until now dodged.

"Thomas Arthur's protracted attempt to escape justice is finally at an end," Alabama's Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement released following the execution.

In last-minute appeals Arthur's lawyers had challenged the injection method to be used on Thursday and asked that a cellphone be put in the death chamber in the event that something went awry - requests the nation's highest court denied.

In her dissenting opinion Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted the risks of the lethal injection protocols, writing: "When Thomas Arthur enters the execution chamber tonight, he will leave his constitutional rights at the door."

'Houdini no more' 

His case had angered both opponents and supporters of the death sentence: the former saw his endless run-ins with execution as a form of psychological torture, while those who supported 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," she said.

"Hopefully Houdini's bag of tricks is empty and he is finally going down. No Houdini no more."

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.

Prior to the execution Troy Wicker's niece had 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."

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