For now, Texas 7 death row inmate Patrick Murphy can live, a judge ruled Thursday.
Murphy’s stay of execution was granted by an order signed by U.S. District Judge George Hanks Jr., who has allowed Murphy’s lawsuit to continue. Murphy’s suit objects to the way the Texas Department of Criminal Justice provides access to spiritual advisers for death row inmates preparing for execution.
Murphy was a member of the infamous Texas 7, who escaped from a Texas prison in 2000. The group of escapees drove to an Irving sporting goods store on Christmas Eve and police officer Aubrey Hawkins answered the robbery call.
Hawkins was ambushed and killed moments before the inmates continued their escape. One inmate, Larry Harper, committed suicide in Colorado as law enforcement officers were closing in.
The remaining six were captured, and then convicted and sentenced to death in connection with the slaying of the police officer. Now only Murphy and his fellow death row inmate, Randy Halprin, remain alive.
Murphy was scheduled to be executed on Nov. 13, prior to the stay being granted, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice records.
Murphy’s rescheduled execution date followed a ruling by U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh that postponed an earlier death date of March 28 set by Texas officials.
Murphy, a Buddhist, filed a complaint protesting his inability to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser accompany him to the execution chamber.
Murphy claims that the state’s inability to supply him with a Buddhist spiritual adviser instead of a state-employed spiritual adviser that was offered violated the constitutional principals of religious neutrality.
The state subsequently revised its policy to prohibit any spiritual advisers in the execution chamber but allow religious advisers in the execution viewing room.
Murphy filed an amended complaint in April, arguing that the state’s new policy was hostile to religion in general. Murphy’s complaint also claimed the new state policy was discriminatory in respect to the differences in the length of time and locations that death row inmates could meet with spiritual advisers employed by the Texas prison system and those who were not employed by the Texas prison system.
The TDCJ employed clergy are of the Christian and Muslim faiths, Murphy argued.
Hanks ruled there remain some issues to be considered in granting Murphy’s stay, and that granting the stay would allow the court time to balance Murphy’s concerns about the free exercise of his religious beliefs and the valid concerns of prison officials about the need for security, according to his order.
“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,” the ruling states. “The defendants have provided justifications for why things are done as they are, but the facts have not yet clarified whether it is the only, or even best, way.”