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Alabama Refuses To Allow Important DNA Test For Death Row Case

Andrew Cohen writes in The Atlantic about a particularly infuriating capital case in Alabama. As a reporter, these stories are depressing because you see prosecutors clinging to bad convictions, usually for political reasons: Another month,

Andrew Cohen writes in The Atlantic about a particularly infuriating capital case in Alabama. As a reporter, these stories are depressing because you see prosecutors clinging to bad convictions, usually for political reasons:

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Another month, another man on death row, another excruciating case that illustrates just some of the ways in which America's death penalty regime is unconstitutionally broken. This time, the venue is Alabama. This time, the murder that generated the sentence took place 30 years ago. And this time, there is an execution date of March 29, 2012, for Thomas Arthur, a man who has always maintained his innocence. He also has the unwelcome distinction of being one of the few prisoners in the DNA-testing era to be this close to capital punishment after someone else confessed under oath to the crime.

Late last month, I profiled the wobbly capital conviction against Troy Noling in Ohio and there are remarkable similarities between it and the Arthur case. Both involve white defendants. Both include contentions of innocence and allegations of bad lawyering at trial. Both include a lack of physical evidence linking the defendants to the crime. Both include crucial witness testimony that borders the farcical. And both include state officials reluctant to permit sophisticated DNA testing that might definitively answer questions about whether the defendants committed the murders they will die for.

Arthur's attorneys are even willing to pay for that testing, the few thousand bucks it would be, and the testing could be completed by the execution date. It is here where prosecutors and judges lose me when they prioritize "finality" in capital punishment cases at the expense of "accuracy." It would cost Alabama nothing to let Arthur's lawyers do the testing. And it might solve a case that already has cost the state millions of dollars. Instead, Alabama wants to finally solve its Arthur problem by executing him. No matter how the new DNA test could come out, the state is more interested in defending its dubious conviction.

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