Friday, November 08, 2019

New Stay of Execution For Buddhist Inmate Over Access To Chaplain

In Murphy v. Collier, (SD TX, Nov. 7, 2019), a Texas federal district court stayed the execution of Patrick Murphy because of differential treatment of the religious needs of prisoners being executed. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed a previous execution date because of Texas' policy to allow a Christian chaplain to be in the execution chamber, but Murphy's Buddhist spiritual adviser could only be in an adjacent room. (See prior posting.) Texas then modified its procedures and allowed no chaplains in the execution chamber. (See prior posting.) However Murphy claims that there is still differential treatment:
Murphy’s amended complaint, however, has moved its primary focus to the interaction an inmate has with his spiritual advisor before entering the execution chamber..... [A]ll inmates have access to their spiritual advisor during business hours in the two-and-a-half days leading up to the execution. An inmate, however, may only meet with non-TDCJ spiritual advisors in the holding area (generally referred to as the “death house”) between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. on the day of execution. For the next two hours, preparations are made for the execution. The inmate may make phone calls, including to his spiritual advisor, until 5:00 p.m. Only TDCJ personnel may interact with the inmate thereafter.
The policy, however, does not place any limitation on visits by TDCJ-employed clergy, “who appear to have access to an inmate until the minute he enters the execution chamber.”... Murphy argues that the amended policy still favors some religions over others because TDCJ-employed chaplains, who are all Christian or Muslim, have greater access to the condemned than non-TDCJ employee spiritual advisors.
The court concluded:
The concerns raised by the amended complaint’s focus on the pre-execution procedure are as compelling as those in the original complaint..... A stay will allow the Court time to explore and resolve serious factual concerns about the balance between Murphy’s religious rights and the prison’s valid concerns for security.
Texas Tribune reports on the decision.