Texas bishops praise delayed execution of prisoner denied Buddhist chaplain

Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which represents the state’s 32 bishops, issued a statement on Friday praising the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the execution of Patrick Murphy. Murphy, a Buddhist, was denied access to a Buddhist minister during his scheduled execution.


“The Catholic bishops of Texas applaud the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution of Patrick Henry Murphy since he did not have access to a spiritual director of his faith,” said the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.


“Our country was founded on the rights of each individual to exercise his faith, regardless of whether in prison or in a church. May Mr. Murphy find peace and wise counsel in his search for purity and truth,” they said.


Murphy’s execution had been scheduled for Thursday. One month prior to his execution date, he requested the presence of his spiritual advisor in the execution chamber. His request was denied, as the Buddhist minister is not an employee of the prison. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice only employs Christian and Muslim chaplains.


Seven Supreme Court justices agreed that Murphy’s rights had been violated and that his execution should be stayed. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not join the majority opinion.


Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court’s newest member, authored a concurring opinion explaining why the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had violated Murphy’s rights.


Kavanaugh said that that allowing only Christian and Muslim ministers to be present with death row inmates in the execution chamber was discriminatory, suggesting that a more just resolution would be that no chaplains be permitted in the execution chamber and instead they be allowed to sit in the viewing area.


“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,” said Kavanaugh.


Murphy was sentenced to death for his role in the murder of Officer Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve, 2000.


Murphy, who had escaped from prison 11 days earlier, together with six other inmates known collectively as the ‘Texas 7,’ was present at the scene of a robbery in Irving, TX. Murphy remained inside the car, listening to a police scanner, and warned the others when the police were coming to the scene. Murphy was directed to leave the scene by the other members of the group who were robbing the store, and he left.


Hawkins, an off-duty police officer who came across the robbery, was shot 11 times by other members of the group, and then run over with a stolen car. Murphy was neither present for nor aware of Hawkins’ death until afterwards.


Six of the “Texas 7” were captured one month later, in Colorado. The seventh member of the group died by suicide before the police could arrest him. All were sentenced to death for Hawkins’ murder, as Texas law permits capital punishment for those who were involved in the act of a capital crime.


Murphy and one other member of the group are still awaiting execution.

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