By David Beasley
(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted the planned Thursday execution of a 75-year-old Alabama prisoner who has spent more than three decades on death row and faced seven previous execution dates.
In a two-sentence order, the court issued a temporary stay for the execution of Tommy Arthur, with the action announced less than an hour before he was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 6 p.m. CDT (2300 GMT) in Atmore, Alabama. The court did not specify a time frame in its order.
“It is ordered that execution of the sentence of death is hereby stayed pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court,” the court said in the order.
Alabama was still planning for the execution to be held on Thursday night, Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Horton said.
Arthur has maintained his innocence for the 1982 murder of his girlfriend’s husband.
Three juries have found him guilty of shooting Troy Wicker to death as he slept. Two convictions were overturned on constitutional grounds. After his third conviction in 1991, Arthur asked the jury to sentence him to death.
He has been fighting his punishment since.
“Until I take my last breath, I’ll have hope,” Arthur told NBC News in an interview last week.
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Arthur’s previous scheduled execution after he argued Alabama’s lethal injection procedures amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
In February, the court declined to hear Arthur’s appeal, which focused on Alabama’s use of the sedative midazolam. Examples of the drug’s inability to render executions painless are increasing, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a dissent.
In new appeals, Arthur said Alabama in December injected inmate Ronald Smith with painful execution drugs while Smith was still conscious.
Alabama “plans to do the same to Mr. Arthur,” his lawyers said in an appeal rejected by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
State attorneys said evidence backs the drug protocol.