PHOENIX (AP) — Plans to execute an Arizona man on Wednesday remain on track after a judge refused to postpone the lethal injection, rejecting a bid to allow fingerprint and DNA testing on evidence from two 1980s killings that led to the inmate's death sentence.
Lawyers for Murray Hooper said their client is innocent, that no physical evidence ties him to the killings of William “Pat” Redmond and his mother-in-law, Helen Phelps, and that testing could lead to identifying those responsible. They say Hooper was convicted in an era before computerized fingerprint systems and DNA testing were available in criminal cases.
U.S. District Judge Stephen McNamee wrote in Monday's order that the argument by Hooper’s lawyers was flawed in concluding that such testing will automatically establish his innocence.
“Even if forensic testing establishes what Plaintiff (Hooper) hopes it will, that alone will not invalidate the other evidence used to convict him,” McNamee wrote.
McNamee wrote that the absence of Hooper’s fingerprints on evidence wouldn’t undermine witness testimony that he took part in the killings. He especially noted the testimony of Redmond's wife, Marilyn, who authorities said had been shot in the head when Hooper and two other men forced their way into the Redmond home on Dec. 31, 1980. She survived the attack and testified against Hooper.
Hooper’s attorneys, who are appealing the judge's decision, said in a statement that Arizona shouldn’t move forward with the execution plan until the testing is done and his legal team has adequate time to review the evidence.
His lawyers say Marilyn Redmond’s description of the assailants changed several times before she identified their client, who said he was not in Arizona at the time. They also raised questions about the benefits received by witnesses who testified against her client, including favorable treatment in other criminal cases.
“For 40 years, Mr. Hooper has maintained that he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death based on corrupt police practices and unreliable witness testimony,” the defense team said.
State courts had previously rejected Hooper’s request for the testing, with a lower-court judge concluding that the evidence implicating Hooper was overwhelming.
Two other men, William Bracy and Edward McCall, were convicted in the killings but died before their death sentences could be carried out.
Authorities say Robert Cruz, who was alleged to have had ties to organized crime, hired Hooper, Bracy and McCall to kill Pat Redmond, who co-owned a printing business. They said Cruz wanted to take over the business and was unhappy that Redmond had rejected his offers to enter several printing contracts with Las Vegas hotels, according to court records. In 1995, Cruz was acquitted of murder charges in both deaths.
Hooper would be the state's third prisoner put to death this year after Arizona resumed carrying out executions in May, following a nearly eight-year hiatus attributed to both the difficulty of obtaining lethal injection drugs and criticism that a 2014 execution was botched.
There are 111 inmates on Arizona’s death row, and 22 have exhausted their appeals, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.