WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — The United States Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the execution of one of the last members of the “Texas Seven,” a group of escaped prisoners who killed a police officer during a high-profile crime spree in 2000.
The court granted Patrick Murphy, 57, a last-minute reprieve in the name of religious equality, pointing out that under Texas policy, Christian and Muslim clerics can be present in the execution room, while other denominations — including the Buddhist monk Murphy wants to accompany him — cannot.
Sentenced to 50 years in prison for aggravated sexual assault, Murphy participated in an escape in December 2000 with six other detainees from a maximum security prison in south Texas.
The seven men knocked out guards to steal their uniforms and forced another to open the door. The father of one of them was waiting outside with a vehicle.
The men committed multiple robberies during their time on the run.
On Christmas Eve, they robbed a sporting goods store in the suburbs of Dallas and were confronted by police officer Aubrey Hawkins.
Hawkins died after being shot 11 times.
Authorities launched a manhunt with a reward of $500,000.
After the broadcast of an episode of the television show “America’s Most Wanted,” several tips came in about sightings of the fugitives.
Six weeks after their escape, they were apprehended in Colorado. One of the seven committed suicide when they were arrested.
Murphy was the driver of the getaway car but a Texas court ruled that the survivors were all responsible for the murder of the police officer and sentenced them to death.
Religious freedom argument
Four of them have already been executed while Murphy and another member of the “Texas Seven” have been on death row awaiting execution.
His lawyers said that Murphy converted to Buddhism about 10 years ago and asked, in the name of religious freedom, for the presence in the death chamber of Murphy’s spiritual advisor.
The condemned convict is convinced that his advisor’s presence is necessary “to be reborn in the Pure Land,” the lawyers wrote in their appeal.
“He can only achieve this outcome if he is able to focus on the Buddha,” they said. “The presence of his spiritual advisor, who has visited him in this capacity for the past six years, would permit him to maintain the required focus.”
The Huntsville Penitentiary, which has only a Christian chaplain, refused the request.
Last month, the Supreme Court refused to delay the execution of Domineque Ray, a Muslim death row inmate who sought the presence of an imam when he was executed in an Alabama penitentiary.
The court said that Murphy “made his request to the state in a sufficiently timely manner, one month before the scheduled execution,” while Ray was said to have submitted his request too late.
© Agence France-Presse