A DEATH row prisoner narrowly avoided execution last night after his Buddhist spiritual adviser wasn’t allowed in the chamber with him.
Patrick Murphy, 57, part of the ‘Texas 7’ gang of escaped inmates who killed a cop during their crime spree, had been due to get a lethal injection at 6pm on Thursday.
Patrick Murphy, 57, narrowly avoided execution last night after his Buddhist spiritual adviser wasn’t allowed in the chamber[/caption]
But his execution was halted after claiming his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser wasn’t allowed to be in the death chamber.
The US Supreme Court blocked Murphy’s execution about two hours after he could have been executed.
After being granted a reprieve, a smiling Murphy said: “I knew there was a thin thread of possibility”.
Murphy was serving a 50-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault when he and six other inmates broke out of a maximum security prison in Texas in 2000.
They committed numerous robberies, including one in which 29-year-old Irving police Officer Aubrey Hawkins was shot dead.
Hawkins, who had been with the Irving police force about 14 months, had just finished Christmas Eve dinner with his family when he responded to the call about the robbery and was ambushed.
‘TEXAS 7 PRISON BREAK GANG’
The escaped inmates were arrested a month later in Colorado, ending a six-week manhunt.
One of them killed himself as officers closed in and the other six were convicted of killing Hawkins and sentenced to death.
Murphy would have been the fifth to be executed.
The sixth inmate, Randy Halprin, has not been given an execution date.
Murphy has appealed against his execution, saying he should be spared because he didn’t fire the fatal shots.
Murphy would have been the fourth inmate put to death this year in the US and the third executed in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state.
BECAME BUDDHIST 10 YEARS AGO
His attorneys had said prison officials’ efforts to prevent the inmate’s spiritual adviser from being with him when he is put to death violated Murphy’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
Murphy, 57, became a Buddhist almost a decade ago while incarcerated.
Lower courts had rejected Murphy’s argument.
But on Thursday, the newest justice on the court, Brett Kavanaugh, said the Texas prison system allows a Christian or Muslim inmate to have a state-employed Christian or Muslim religious adviser present either in the execution room or in the adjacent viewing room.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ‘VIOLATED’
But inmates of other religious denominations who want their religious adviser to be present can have the adviser present only in the viewing room and not in the execution room itself, he said.
“As this Court has repeatedly held, governmental discrimination against religion in particular, discrimination against religious persons, religious organizations, and religious speech violates the Constitution,” he wrote.
“The government may not discriminate against religion generally or against particular religious denominations.”
Kavanaugh said Texas can’t move forward with Murphy’s punishment unless the state permits his Buddhist adviser or another Buddhist reverend of the state’s choosing to accompany Murphy in the chamber during the execution.
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“What the State may not do, in my view, is allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious adviser of their religion in the execution room,” the justice said.
Kavanaugh did not hear any death penalty cases in his 12 years as an appeals court judge joining the Supreme Court.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel the state would review the ruling to determine how to respond.