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Texas Matters: Zen And Death Row With Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy was ready to die on March 28, and the State of Texas was ready to kill him. It was the U.S. Supreme Court that stepped in and granted the surprise execution stay. That’s why Murphy is alive today.

The high court granted the last-minute appeal for the Texas Seven member and said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice violated his religious rights by refusing him a Buddhist chaplain in the execution chamber.

It was customary in Texas to allow a Christian or Muslim spiritual adviser in the death chamber during an execution. The Supreme Court ruled that the state's barring of the Buddist adviser was religious discrimination and violated the Constitution.

The court said either Texas allows all the religions or none. The prison system responded with the decision to prohibit all religious advisers in the death chamber during the execution. Most other states do not allow clergy in the death chamber.

Murphy is on death row for his role in the Texas Seven escape. In 2000, the group of Texas inmates managed to slip out of a maximum state prison. While on the run they committed numerous robberies, and on Christmas Eve they killed Irving Police Officer Aubry Hawkins as they stole guns from a sporting goods store.

Murphy said he did not participate in the killing of Hawkins. He was convicted and sentenced to death under the law of parties.

I spoke with Patrick Murphy at the Polunsky Prison in Livingston, Texas, about 40 miles east of Huntsville. During the interview, Murphy sat in a caged-in booth behind thick sheet of glass. We spoke via phone handsets.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi