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Alabama Supreme Court stays execution after DNA evidence questioned

[JURIST] The Alabama Supreme Court [official website] voted 5-4 on Wednesday to indefinitely stay the execution [order, PDF] of Thomas Arthur [advocacy website], who had been sentenced to death by lethal injection for a 1982 contract killing. Arthur would have been executed on Thursday. The court did not disclose its reason for the stay, but the decision comes after lawyers for Arthur filed an affidavit in which another prisoner, Bobby Ray Gilbert, confessed to the murder [Times Daily report], and an assistant attorney general said the state could not find evidence that the defense had petitioned to test for DNA. The Innocence Project has petitioned [advocacy website] Alabama Governor Bob Riley to order DNA testing of the evidence, if found, in order to potentially clear Arthur of the charges. The New York Times has more. The Birmingham News has local coverage.

Arthur's execution would have been Alabama's first since the end of the national de-facto moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty, during which states ceased executions while the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] considered Baze v. Rees [Duke law case backgrounder; JURIST report], a case which challenged the legality of Kentucky's lethal injection protocol. The Court upheld the procedure, ruling that it did not violate the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In January, the Court stayed the execution [order, PDF; JURIST report] of another Alabama death row inmate as it considered the case and a circuit court stayed the sentence [JURIST report] of a third in October 2007 for the same reason.

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