ATMORE, Ala. – Alabama's quest to kill an inmate who spent decades on death row for murder became a high-stakes game of beat the clock after the U.S. Supreme Court finally cleared the way for his execution.
Faced with a deluge of last-minute defense appeals and a legal deadline of midnight to execute Tommy Arthur for a 1982 contract killing, officers at Holman prison had to set the final stage for a lethal injection in only 1 hours, 16 minutes after the justices lifted a temporary stay Thursday night.
An officer performed a test to determine whether intravenous drugs had rendered Arthur unconscious about 3 minutes before his death warrant expired, saying the inmate's name repeatedly and pinching his arm without a visible response. Color was draining from Arthur's face and his breathing was shallow at best when the clock hit midnight.
A doctor pronounced the 75-year-old inmate dead at 12:15 a.m. Friday.
Arthur, who had postponed seven previous execution dates after courts intervened, was visibly upset during the procedure. But Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the execution beat the legal deadline since it started before midnight, and it went off without any of the hitches that have marred other lethal injections in Alabama and elsewhere.
"Once the execution begins, as long as that is within the period of the death warrant, the execution can continue," said Dunn.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who earlier refused Arthur's request for DNA testing of evidence linked to the slaying Troy Wicker, said relatives of the riverboat engineer "can finally rest knowing that his murderer has faced justice."
"Mr. Arthur was rightfully convicted and sentenced, and tonight, that sentence was rightfully and justly carried out," Ivey said in a statement.
Wicker was shot through an eye as he slept on Feb. 1, 1982.
Arthur maintained his innocence in recent media interviews as his attorneys had pressed the governor to delay his eighth execution date so DNA tests could be performed on hairs collected at the crime scene. Arthur's daughter, in a news conference held an hour after her father's execution, repeated those calls saying there should be mandatory DNA testing of all evidence in all capital cases before any execution is carried out.
Sherrie Stone said she vacillated over the years over whether she thought her father killed Wicker. "At times, I was convinced he did. At times, I believed he was innocent. .... Now, I will never know the truth."
Wicker's two sons witnessed the execution but didn't speak with reporters afterward.
Arthur's lawyers had filed a flurry of appeals trying to halt the eighth execution date. They argued the state planned to use an ineffective sedative, midazolam, and said the last inmate executed in Alabama was "awake" through the procedure because he coughed for the first 13 minutes of his execution and moved slightly after two consciousness tests.
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the execution to proceed shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
The state prison system began administering the lethal injection drugs around 11:50 p.m. Thursday, just before the death warrant was to have expired at midnight. Arthur's hands appeared to twitch a few times, but he didn't cough or lurch as some inmates have done in executions using midazolam.
As the execution date neared, Arthur had acknowledged his chances of another stay were slim.
"I'm terrified, but there's nothing I can do," Arthur told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday.
Reeves contributed to this report from Alpharetta, Georgia.