Supreme Court rejects Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur’s appeal

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is freeing Alabama to try again to execute a convicted killer who has been on death row for more than 30 years.

The justices on Tuesday turned down an appeal from inmate Tommy Arthur. In November, the court blocked Arthur's execution as he waited in a holding cell outside the state's execution chamber.

Chief Justice John Roberts voted to halt the execution at the time, to allow the court time to consider whether Arthur's appeal should be reviewed. The court's majority order declining to take up the case came without comment.

But Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer said they would have heard Arthur's appeal.

Sotomayor wrote a passionate dissent, in part noting to challenge an execution method as cruel and unusual, "A condemned prisoner must not only prove that the state`s chosen method risks severe pain, but must also propose a 'known and available' alternative method for his own execution."

Arthur's filing suggested as an alternative to lethal injection, the state could kill him by firing squad. But that's not expressly legal under Alabama code, so the courts rejected it as a so-called 'known and available alternative.'

Sotomayor writes in her dissent that the court never even considered whether the drugs now used in lethal injection are cruel and unusual, because Arthur's alternative method didn't stand up.

But Sotomayor seems bothered by the sedative currently used by Alabama that many believe to be insufficient.

She writes, "Execution absent an adequate sedative thus produces a nightmarish death: the condemned prisoner is conscious but entirely paralyzed, unable to move or scream his agony, as he suffers 'what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.'"

All the same, her voice represents the minority of the court.

Tommy Arthur can be executed by lethal injection.

Arthur has maintained his innocence in the murder-for-hire killing of Troy Wicker in Wicker's home in Muscle Shoals.