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Buddhist Texas 7 Member Gets Another, Faith-Based Stay of Execution

Texas' death chamber
Texas' death chamber
Texas Department of Corrections
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Patrick Murphy, one of an infamous group of prison escapees who became known as the Texas 7, will not be killed by the state next week. Thursday, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas gave Murphy, who'd been set to die on Nov. 13, his second reprieve from lethal injection, agreeing with his defense team that there's a legal question as to whether Texas is violating Murphy's right to practice his religion freely in the hours leading up to his death.

Along with six of his fellow inmates, Murphy escaped from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Connally Unit near Kenedy in December 2000. After their escape, they committed a series of robberies, culminating at an Oshman's sporting goods store in Irving on Christmas Eve. As Murphy sat in an idling getaway car, his six co-conspirators robbed the store, only to be confronted by Irving Police officer Aubrey Hawkins.

Murphy left the scene on the orders of the group's leader, George Rivas, but the remaining six robbers shot Hawkins 11 times, killing him. After Murphy was captured in January 2001, a Dallas County jury convicted him of capital murder, in accordance with Texas "law of parties" statute, which allows those participating in a felony to be tried for murder if that crime results in a death, even if they didn't participate in the killing.

In March, Murphy came within hours of execution before the U.S. Supreme Court granted him a stay, based on the fact that he wouldn't have been allowed to have a spiritual adviser from his faith tradition, Buddhism, in the death chamber. Christian and Muslim inmates had been allowed to have their spiritual adviser with them as they were put to death, because the TDCJ has chaplains from those faiths on its payroll.

Instead of making it possible for Murphy to have a Buddhist minister with him as he was put to death, Texas reacted to the Supreme Court decision by banning all clergy from the death chamber. Murphy's new appeal focuses on the hours before execution, when inmates with spiritual advisers on the state payroll have greater access to those advisers than those of different faiths.

U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks agreed that Murphy's new appeal requires further argument.

"Serious questions remain as to whether Texas’ current policy unconstitutionally allows a Christian inmate in-person access to a state-employed religious adviser in the hours immediately before execution, while inmates of other religious denominations may only communicate with their religious advisers by telephone (and not communicate at all after a certain hour)," Hanks wrote.

Of the seven men who escaped in 2000, two, Murphy and Randy Halperin, are still alive on death row. One of the escapees killed himself, rather than being taken into custody. Murphy's remaining four accomplices have been executed.

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