A member of the "Texas 7" gang of escaped prisoners won a reprieve Thursday night from execution for the fatal shooting of a suburban Dallas police officer after claiming his religious freedom would be violated if his Buddhist spiritual adviser wasn't allowed to be in the death chamber with him.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Patrick Murphy's execution about two hours after he could have been executed.
Murphy's attorneys had said that Texas prison officials' efforts to prevent the inmate's spiritual adviser, a Buddhist priest, from being with him when he is put to death violated Murphy's First Amendment right to freedom of religion. Murphy, 57, became a Buddhist almost a decade ago while incarcerated.
Toby Shook lead the death penalty prosecution of Texas 7 gang member Patrick Murphy in the ambush-murder of Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins on Christmas Eve of 2000.
He doesn't buy the argument that Murphy's constitutional rights were violated.
"It was disappointment. It's been 18 years,” Shook said.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote, "In my view the Constitution prohibits such denominational discrimination."
Dallas attorney Peter Lesser, not connected with the case, said he’s frustrated the issue was not resolved before the execution date.
"It's clear that TDC did not get it right, they're not exercising common sense! This is easily solvable,” Lesser said. "How the Court of Criminal Appeals doesn't understand that Buddhists are just as religious as Christians or Jews or Muslims and are entitled to the same rights is beyond me."
Texas prison officials argued they did not have someone on staff to meet the religious needs Murphy requested and bringing in an outsider would raise security concerns.
In response to the supreme court stay, TDCJ spokesman, Jeremy Desel said, "Legal teams are examining the ruling to determine what if any future impact it will have."
When the execution was stopped Thursday evening, Shook says Officer Hawkins' widow called him.
"She has a lot of frustration because these appeals have gone on a long time. They get a lot of publicity. She doesn't like the way, they get to tell their side of the story, but most of them refused to testify and undergo cross examination. She views them as cowards,” Shook said.
Murphy can't be assigned another execution date until the Texas Department of Criminal Justice remedies the situation to the courts satisfaction.
Once that happens, the Supreme Court stay order will be lifted and the judge in the 283rd District Court in Dallas can set another execution date. But that date can be no sooner than 90 days from the time the stay is lifted. Another execution date for Murphy is likely anywhere from four to six or more months away.