- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2019

A federal court delayed a cop killer’s execution in Texas for the second time after the Supreme Court said the man deserves to have his Buddhist priest in the execution chamber the same way the state allows clergy to accompany Christian inmates.

Patrick Murphy, who was the lookout when his co-conspirators shot and killed an Irving, Texas, police officer in 2000, was originally set to die in March. The Supreme Court delayed the punishment, saying Murphy must be allowed to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser with him in the chamber.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote a separate opinion, saying Texas could change its policy to allow all inmates to have their spiritual advisers in the execution chamber or allow spiritual advisers — no matter what denomination — to be present only in the viewing room adjacent to the chamber so all inmates are treated equally.

Texas chose to change its policy to the latter. Murphy now contends Christian chaplains who are employed by the prison can pray with Christian inmates for a longer time heading into the day of execution, whereas other faith leaders not employed by the state are denied that opportunity.

Murphy was scheduled to be executed Wednesday, but he won another reprieve. A federal judge last week ordered his execution delayed, reasoning that Texas’ policy still favors some religions over others.

“If Murphy were Christian, he would have the benefit of faith-specific spiritual support until he entered the execution chamber; as a Buddhist he is denied that benefit,” Judge George C. Hanks Jr., an Obama appointee, wrote in the 14-page opinion.

Texas has fought that opinion, filing an emergency motion with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to carry out the lethal injection Nov. 13.

The case may be heading back to the Supreme Court for a second look.

Eric Rassbach, vice president at Becket Religious Liberty for All, a First Amendment law firm that has sided with Murphy, said the appeals court should order the state to allow Murphy to have his Buddhist priest with him when he’s executed.

“Our country has long afforded the comfort of clergy to the condemned at the hour of his death. That we do so says more about who we are as a nation than it does about the condemned. Texas long allowed ministers in the death chamber, so there is no practical reason why Texas can’t allow it for Buddhists also,” Mr. Rassbach said. First Amendment groups rallied behind Murphy’s fight after the Supreme Court this year denied a Muslim man’s request in Alabama for his imam to accompany him inside the chamber.

Domineque Ray was put to death in February for the rape and murder of a teenage girl in 1995. He had petitioned the Supreme Court, challenging Alabama’s policy, which like Texas, had allowed only a Christian prison chaplain to accompany the condemned into the execution chamber.

The Supreme Court, though, declined to stay the lethal injection.

About a month later, it did so for Murphy, saying the state can’t execute Murphy unless it allows him to have his Buddhist adviser or a Buddhist priest of the state’s approval by his side.

Justice Kavanaugh in his separate writing noted the significance of the issue and said Texas must allow all inmates to have their religious advisers in the execution chamber or none at all — instead, holding the spiritual leaders in a viewing room.

The justice suggested either of those would remedy an equal-treatment dilemma.

As a result, Texas chose to remove all spiritual leaders from the chamber, but Murphy amended his lawsuit, saying there is still a First Amendment problem when clergy employed by the state are allowed to have access to an inmate until the minute he enters the chamber, whereas non-Christian inmates can access their spiritual leaders only in the “death house,” the holding area where inmates are kept for about an hour prior to being injected.

Texas contends the state-employed clergy will listen to all inmates regardless of their faith up until the time to enter the chamber.
Judge Hanks rejected the state’s reasoning.

“Serious questions remain as to whether Texas’ current policy unconstitutionally allows a Christian inmate in-person access to a state-employed religious adviser in the hours immediately before execution, while inmates of other religious denominations may only communicate with their religious advisers by telephone,” the judge wrote.
Murphy was one of the “Texas Seven” who escaped prison in 2000 and subsequently killed a Texas police officer, Aubrey Wright Hawkins.

Murphy said he will use his last words to apologize for his involvement in the crime, the Houston Chronicle reported.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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