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Alabama Governor’s 45-Day Stay of Execution for Thomas Arthur Should Immediately Lead to DNA Testing, Innocence Project Says

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‘Governor Riley is out of excuses. The 45-day stay of execution gives us more than enough time to conduct and complete DNA testing that could show whether Thomas Arthur is guilty or innocent,’ Neufeld says

(MONTGOMERY, AL; September 27, 2007) – Today, Alabama Governor Bob Riley issued a 45-day stay of execution for Thomas Arthur so that the state can change its lethal injection protocol. Arthur was set to be executed this evening. The Innocence Project, which represents prisoners seeking to prove their innocence through DNA testing, has been asking Governor Riley to issue a stay of execution in Arthur’s case in order to conduct DNA testing that could prove his guilt or innocence. The Innocence Project said today that Governor Riley should immediately order DNA testing in Arthur’s case – and that DNA testing could be completed well within the 45 days granted in the stay of execution.

Arthur’s case is the second in less than two months in which Governor Riley has refused to allow for DNA testing before an execution. In July, Darrell Grayson was executed in Alabama without DNA testing that could have conclusively proven his guilt or innocence. The Innocence Project, which does not represent Arthur and does not have a position on his guilt or innocence, said DNA testing in Arthur’s case could show whether the initial story from the victim’s wife was, in fact, accurate. (She initially claimed a stranger – someone other than Arthur – broke into their home, raped her and killed her husband. Police suspected she was lying, and she was charged and convicted in the murder. She then changed her story and testified against Arthur in order to be released from prison earlier.) Her motive to lie is obvious, the Innocence Project says. Several pieces of evidence – the victim’s wife’s blood-stained clothing, a rape kit collected from her after the crime, and hairs in the victim’s wife’s car – could be subjected to DNA testing. The testing could show that her testimony against Arthur was false, and the DNA testing could identify the true perpetrator. For example, it’s possible that the testing could show that her original story was true and that she was raped, and the DNA profile from evidence in the rape could be entered in the federal DNA database and yield a hit to a man matching her initial description of the intruder at the couple’s home.

Following is a statement from Peter Neufeld, Innocence Project Co-Director, on today’s developments in the Arthur case:

“Governor Riley said last week that DNA testing was only a tactic to delay this execution. It’s not. Now that the execution is delayed for other reasons,

DNA testing should be started immediately. By the time Governor Riley made his statements last week that we were simply trying to delay this execution, weeks had passed since we first requested DNA testing – and the testing could have already been conducted.

“The 45-day stay of execution gives us more than enough time to conduct and complete DNA testing that could show whether Thomas Arthur is guilty or innocent. Governor Riley is out of excuses. There is no reason to continue denying DNA testing – and every reason to start the process for DNA testing immediately.

“As we have said before, we do not have a position on whether Thomas Arthur is guilty or innocent. Our concern is that biological evidence may exist that could be subjected to DNA testing and prove whether or not he is guilty. The victim’s wife in this case was convicted of murdering her husband and then changed her story; DNA testing could show that she changed her story only to get out of prison sooner, and that in fact someone other than Thomas Arthur committed this crime.

“In 42 states, Darrell Grayson or Thomas Arthur would have been able to get DNA testing that could resolve their cases and maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system. Governor Riley, who has refused DNA testing before executions twice in the last two months, has made it clear that he isn’t concerned with getting to the truth in these cases. Nationwide, 15 people who served time on death row have been exonerated through DNA evidence. Sometimes within days of execution, DNA proved they were innocent. If any of those 15 people had been in Alabama, they would be dead today.

“This indifference to the power of DNA to determine the truth through hard science is unconscionable. It is nothing short of a national scandal that Governor Riley is repeatedly refusing DNA testing before executions when testing could confirm guilt or innocence. With this 45-day window of time, Governor Riley has an opportunity to restore faith in the system and restore credibility to his office.”