Saturday, 1 August 2009

Murder scene DNA doesn't match Arthur

The daughter of convicted killer Tommy Arthur said DNA testing of evidence collected for his capital murder trial more than 25 years ago does not link him to the crime.

Sherrie Stone said the tests also fail to connect a state prisoner who said in 2008 that it was him, not Arthur, who killed Troy Wicker Jr. in Muscle Shoals in 1983.

Court officials have confirmed the DNA testing has been completed, but attorneys have been told not to comment on the findings.

One courthouse source with knowledge of the case confirmed to the TimesDaily on Tuesday that the tests do not link anyone to Wicker's slaying.

Arthur continues to maintain he is innocent even though he was convicted in three trials, verdicts that have been upheld on appeals. He was accused of killing Wicker in a murder-for-hire scheme.

Wicker's widow, Judy, also was convicted of murder in connection with the case. She said Arthur is guilty and had testified against him.

Arthur, 66, was sentenced to death in all three trials and has come within days of being executed three times. Each time he managed to get a reprieve.

"I was told by my father that he was told the DNA does not match his or (Bobby Ray) Gilbert's," Stone said.

She added that she too has been instructed not to discuss the test results.

Colbert County District Attorney Bryce Graham Jr., who has not been involved in the prosecution of Arthur, said the absence of Arthur's DNA on the evidence - if true - does not vindicate Arthur. "It's not a given that his DNA would be there, especially as long as it has been since that evidence was collected," Graham said.

Arthur was last scheduled to be executed July 31, 2008. The execution was halted after inmate Bobby Ray Gilbert confessed to killing Wicker.

The confession, which came three days before the scheduled execution, prompted a two-day hearing in April. During the hearing, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Teresa Pulliam ordered DNA testing be performed on evidence collected in the initial investigation.

Gilbert is serving a life sentence without parole at St. Clair Correctional Facility for killing an inmate while he was in prison for another murder conviction. Gilbert claimed he had an affair with Judy Wicker in 1982 and killed her husband. He refused to testify about Wicker's death at the April hearing.

Suhana Han, lead defense attorney for Arthur, asked Pulliam to order DNA testing of evidence collected during the investigation of Troy Wicker's death. She contends it will lend credibility to Gilbert's confession if his DNA is found.

At the hearing, Pulliam said the testing would help answer questions about Gilbert's truthfulness.

"I believe when science is available to aid the court in assessing credibility, we should give science a chance," she said.

DNA testing was conducted on a wig that investigators claim was worn by Arthur during the crime and clothing worn by Judy Wicker on the day her husband was killed.

Pulliam also ordered DNA testing of a hair found on a shoe in the Wicker home, but forensics officials were unable to find that hair. It is unclear if the hair was later found and tested.

A Jefferson Circuit Court official confirmed the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences has completed the testing. Copies of the results have been shared with the Alabama Attorney General's office and attorneys representing Arthur, the official said.

Pulliam instructed attorneys not disclose results of the tests.

"I'm under a court order to not discuss the results," said Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw, chief of capital litigation in Alabama,

Han could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Angelo Delle Manna, chief of forensic biology and DNA for the Department of Forensic Sciences, warned at the hearing that even if Gilbert or Arthur handled the evidence, it is possible no DNA would be found.

While refusing to disclose the results of the tests, Crenshaw said he predicted early on Arthur's DNA would not be found. "He was completely covered at the scene and he didn't leave any DNA evidence."

Officials at the Innocence Project, a New York-based organization that advocates the use of DNA technology to exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners, declined to comment on the possible impact of the DNA testing, citing the order by Pulliam for no one involved in the litigation to discuss the results. The Innocence Project has provided assistance to Arthur in his effort to secure DNA testing of evidence.

Pulliam is awaiting responses from attorneys about the findings of the DNA testing. So far, neither side has requested a hearing to discuss the results, court officials said. The deadline to respond is Monday.

Findings from DNA testing could open the door for additional appeals, courthouse officials say.

Dennis Sherer can be reached at 740-5746 or

Senior writer Tom Smith contributed to this report.

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