Alito Assails Decision to Block Execution of Buddhist Inmate

(CN) – Ripping his Supreme Court colleagues for halting the March execution of a Texas man on religious liberty grounds as “seriously wrong,” Justice Samuel Alito issued a new rebuke on Monday blaming attorney tactics for the last-minute reprieve, which he said “invites abuse.”

Patrick Murphy. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)

The justices decided to spare inmate Patrick Murphy, a practicing Buddhist, from his March 28 execution after agreeing that it was unconstitutional to allow spiritual advisers for some religions but not all in the execution chamber.

Murphy, a member of the notorious “Texas Seven” gang of escaped inmates, was convicted in 2003 for the murder of a police officer. He was already serving a 55-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault when he escaped and was sentenced to death for the officer’s murder.  

“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,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in issuing the stay along with the liberal majority.

Kavanaugh defended the court’s decision in a statement Monday, writing that Murphy’s execution stay “facilitated a prompt fix to the religious equality problem in Texas’ execution protocol.”

But Alito slammed Murphy’s attorneys for filing a Supreme Court request to stay his execution on religious liberty grounds just six hours before it was set to be carried out.

“If the tactics of Murphy’s attorneys in this case are not inexcusably dilatory, it is hard to know what the concept means,” Alito wrote in a dissent issued Monday.  

While Alito held that Murphy’s claims may ultimately be found to have merit, “prisoners should bring such claims well before their scheduled executions so that the courts can adjudicate them in the way that the claims require.”

He also expressed fear that the high court allowing the 11th-hour reprieve “will encourage this damaging practice,” and ultimately “invites abuse.”

Murphy’s reprieve was unexpected because of a Supreme Court decision in February that reversed an 11th Circuit order blocking Alabama from executing Domineque Ray, a Muslim, finding his motion to stay his execution was untimely.

Ray, 42, was executed on Feb. 7. He claimed his execution would be unconstitutional because Alabama would not let his imam into the death room. The majority said Ray had waited too long, just 10 days before his death date, to bring a challenge in federal court.

Kavanaugh insisted in his statement on Monday that “several significant differences” distinguish Murphy’s case from Ray’s.

“The bottom line is that Ray did not raise an equal-treatment claim. Murphy did,” Kavanaugh concluded.

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