The Alabama Supreme Court postponed executing a man after an inmate claimed in an sworn statement to defense attorneys that he committed the murder that sent the condemned man to death row.
The justices in a 5-4 vote late Wednesday stopped the execution by injection of Thomas Arthur "pending further orders of this Court." Arthur, 66, was scheduled to die Thursday, more than 26 years after he was convicted of killing Troy Wicker Jr. of Muscle Shoals.
It was the third time Arthur received a stay on the eve of his execution.
"My reaction is we finally look forward to the opportunity to examine fully Mr. Arthur's claim of innocence by assessing witness testimony and DNA evidence," said defense attorney Suhana S. Han. "That is the right result."
State Attorney General Troy King called the stay a serious setback for the prosecution.
"The crimes against Troy Wicker's family continue to compound," he said. "There is a good chance he is going to escape his sentence before all is said and done."
Han said Arthur "was absolutely ecstatic."
"Having to face execution is something that most of us can never really imagine," she said.
Arthur's attorneys sought a stay from the governor and the courts by using Monday's sworn statement by Bobby Ray Gilbert, who claimed he killed Wicker. Gilbert is serving a life sentence for a different murder.
But Wicker's widow, who served 10 years of a life sentence for hiring the killer, told attorney general investigators that she never met Gilbert.
"I hired and paid money to Thomas Arthur, not Bobby Gilbert, to kill Troy Wicker," Judy Wicker said in a statement Monday.
Han said a hearing was needed to assess the credibility of Gilbert and Wicker.