- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A federal appeals court stayed a cop killer’s execution Tuesday, suggesting the man has a legitimate First Amendment grievance with Texas’s death row policy restricting access to his Buddhist spiritual adviser ahead of his punishment.

The order denying Texas’s appeal of a lower court ruling postponing Patrick Murphy’s execution for the second time comes after the state hoped to lethally inject the man Wednesday.

“We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting Murphy’s stay. We agree with the district court’s implicit finding that Murphy has a strong likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that the [state] policy violates his rights,” the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

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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. Texas policy had only allowed prison-employed clergy in the execution 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. And on Tuesday, the 5th Circuit said Murphy’s complaint is legitimate.

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

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