Death Watch: No Chaplain Needed Now in Murphy Case

Texas Seven member faces execution on Nov. 13 for a second time

Officials in charge of executions at the Walls Unit in Hunts­ville won't have to worry about providing a Buddhist chaplain on Nov. 13 as they attempt, for the second time, to execute Patrick Murphyy. That's because, due to Murphy's last request, doomed men of all faiths set for execution in Texas are no longer allowed the presence of a spiritual adviser in their final moments.

That new rule went into effect in April, a week after the state's first attempt to put Murphy to death. Spiritual advisers – chaplains, in the language of the Texas Department of Crim­inal Justice – have accompanied hundreds of men into the execution chamber over the years, standing near the condemned as they died and offering prayers. Murphy, being a Buddhist, had requested a Buddhist chaplain, but TDCJ rules allow only those employed by the department to enter the death chamber, and the TDCJ only had Christian and Muslim chaplains on hand. So Murphy's request was rejected.

Sensing an injustice, Murphy's lawyers petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution, saying their client's religious rights had been violated. The court had refused to stop the execution of an Alabama man who made essentially the same request two months before – though he had asked for a Muslim Imam rather than a Buddhist adviser. But the court changed its mind and granted Murphy's request. Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued the opinion: Texas officials either had to allow chaplains of all faiths into the execution chamber, or none. The TDCJ made the easy choice. Chaplains now must watch the execution from behind the glass in the room designated for families of those put to death.

Murphy was a member of the Texas Seven, a group of inmates who broke out of jail in December 2000, living together and evading capture for months. They robbed a sporting goods store on Christmas Eve and shot Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins when he responded to the alarm.

Murphy, driving the getaway car, alerted the rest of the group via walkie-talkie that Hawkins was approaching, but said he didn't do any shooting. He was sentenced to death anyway in 2003 under Texas' "law of parties," which says that a person involved in a group crime is responsible for anything that comes of it, including murder, even if they didn't participate directly. Several men on death row, including Jeff Wood and Randy Halprin, another of the Texas Seven, await death after convictions under the law. Recent legislative sessions have seen bills introduced to do away with the law of parties; it's one of the top targets of death penalty reformers.

If Murphy's execution isn't halted, he will be the sixth man put to death in Texas since August; Justen Hall was executed Wednesday evening, as we went to press, for the 2002 strangulation of Melanie Billhartz.

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Patrick Murphy, Death Watch, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, Aubrey Hawkins, Texas Seven, Law of Parties, Jeff Wood, Randy Halprin, Justen Hall

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