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Dead Men Walking: Alabama Sets Two Execution Dates

— September 16, 2016

The state of Alabama is set to execute two inmates this year for the first time since 2013. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of Tommy Arthur and Ronald Bert Smith, Jr. on Wednesday, August 14, 2016, setting their dates to die by lethal injection on November 3 and December 8 respectively. Smith Jr. had previously challenged his sentence by stating the process of lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, though his appeal was denied. Smith Jr. was convicted of killing Casey Wilson, a convenience store clerk, in 1994 during a botched robbery attempt. Though the jury in his case recommended a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the trial judge overrode their decision and sentenced him to death instead. Tommy Arthur, now 74, was convicted for the 1982 murder-for-hire death of Troy Wicker, a businessman who worked for Muscle Shoals. After being sentenced to death, he, too, challenged the court’s decision, labeling the Death Penalty as unconstitutional. November 3rd will mark his seventh execution date, with Arthur having challenged all six prior dates. According to federal court records, he plans to appeal this one as well.

After a two year gap in executions due to a lack of the drugs required to make the lethal injection cocktail, as well as continuing legal action regarding the constitutionality of the process, the state is now looking to resume executing those inmates who have been sentenced to death. The three-drug combination includes the controversial drug midazolam. Midazolam is a sedative believed to be responsible for several failed executions in 2014, which begs the question: what exactly would fall under the category of cruel and unusual punishment if this doesn’t?

Death row inmates Tommy Arthur (R) and Ronald Bert Smith, Jr. (L); image courtesy of
Death row inmates Tommy Arthur (R) and Ronald Bert Smith, Jr. (L); image courtesy of

Arthur was previously convicted of murdering his sister-in-law in 1977 and was serving a life sentence in a work-release program when Wicker’s wife allegedly hired him to kill her husband Troy in 1982. Twice, his convictions were overturned and though he admits to having killed his relative, he maintains he had nothing to do with the death of Wicker. After a third trial, Arthur was sentenced to death. The judge in Smith Jr.’s case was allowed to impose the Death Penalty after the jury recommended life because of a law similar to one in Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court has since intervened in Florida by striking it down, stating it gives judges too much power during the sentencing process.

The Death Penalty never fails to spark heated debates among proponents for, and opponents against, this method of consequence. Though I certainly understand why some would support it (I’m sure I would initially wish the worst on anyone who harmed or killed someone I love), I still believe it to be wholly unconstitutional. An eye for an eye doesn’t solve anything and the Death Penalty has proven time and again it is in no way a deterrent for violent criminals; if it were, we’d have a lot less vicious crime in the country, don’t you think? Additionally, research indicates one in 25 inmates sentenced to death is innocent. This means countless innocent people have been unjustly executed. The fact that even one person has been wrongfully put to death is enough to prove the punishment is unmerited. Imagine if you or someone you loved were sentenced to death despite being innocent. There are better ways to do this. A good place to start is by leveling the playing field; stop sentencing non-violent offenders (such as those serving life sentences for possession of a couple joints worth of weed) and start focusing on fixing this painfully broken system. Support providing better access to mental health services and push for better education regarding warning signs we all have a duty to recognize instead of ignore. This is not to say violent criminals won’t still find a way to carry out their misdeeds, but it could certainly reduce the frequency. We as a people have the power to affect change; we just have to be willing to fight for it. As for Arthur and Smith Jr., I hope they each receive a stay of execution; not because I think they are innocent but rather, because putting them to death won’t solve a thing.


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