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Execution halted, Alabama inmate back on death row

MOBILE (AP) – An Alabama prisoner who was spared execution for a third time was on Thursday moved from a waiting cell near the lethal injection chamber back to death row.

The Alabama Supreme Court postponed executing Thomas Arthur, 66, after arguments over DNA testing and an inmate’s claim in a sworn statement to defense attorneys that he committed the murder that sent the Arthur to death row.

Arthur was scheduled to die Thursday, more than 26 years after he was convicted of killing Troy Wicker Jr. of Muscle Shoals.

It was the third time Arthur received a stay on the eve of his execution.

The reason his lethal injection was halted by the court Wednesday remains unclear. The justices in a 5-4 vote stopped the execution “pending further orders of this Court.” They did not give an explanation.

Supreme Court Clerk Bob Esdale said the next step is for the court to issue an order on where Arthur’s case goes now. The court’s next conference is Monday, and any order would be issued after that.

Alabama Attorney General Troy King called the stay a serious setback for the prosecution.

Arthur’s attorney, Suhana S. Han of New York, was glad the court decided to take another look at Arthur’s case.

“We finally look forward to the opportunity to examine fully Mr. Arthur’s claim of innocence by assessing witness testimony and DNA evidence,” he said.

Birmingham attorney Mark White, president of the Alabama State Bar, applauded the court’s decision.

“Whenever a judge decides to afford a person the right to be heard, it means our system is working,” White said. “Anytime a judge acts in a situation with the level of intensity present here, we need to stop and commend that courage.”

The State Bar has called for a statewide indigent defense commission that would “better direct resources at the trial stage to ensure quality representation,” White said in a statement.

Arthur’s attorneys had waged a last-minute battle for permission to conduct DNA testing of evidence from his trial. Both the state Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier had denied that request.

“Our system of justice must find a way to avoid the situation where DNA exonerates a person after execution,” White said.