Oprah’s “Our America” episode “Innocent Behind Bars” features Ohio Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey, editor of this blog and international expert on the topic, in this video clip published yesterday. Godsey is speaking here about the execution of Thomas Arthur, scheduled soon in Alabama. Arthur was convicted of the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker. On death row for more than 20 years, he’s always claimed innocence. Godsey freely admits that he doesn’t know if Arthur is guilty or not. He’s not alone in that stance, which is why he’s advocating utilizing every means of finding certainty before this—and any—execution.
The state of Alabama has spent countless taxpayer dollars prosecuting and imprisoning Arthur…and successfully opposing DNA testing of the wig worn by the perpetrator. An article on the case in The Atlantic here suggests “the figure must be astounding–millions upon millions.” His lawyers are willing to pay for the testing if cost were somehow the issue.
The case is complicated. No physical evidence connects Arthur to the crime, and another man eventually confessed. Arthur was convicted of the murder three times, but advocates say here that his court-appointed lawyers had never tried a capital case, were paid minimally, and were ill-prepared. Arthur has a history of violence. He was convicted of another prior murder. His daughter knows as well as anyone that he has been abusive.
But she’s not sure that he committed THIS crime.
Thomas Arthur is not a poster child for those opposed to capital punishment. But his case is a good ethics test for Alabama and, in turn, for America. We must be certain of a person’s guilt of the specific crime in question before any execution. It is unacceptable to execute someone without examining all evidence even if he or she is “a bad person.” To do so is to follow a slippery slope that corrupts true justice. It also enables the real perpetrator to escape justice and continue a life of crime and violence.