Texas tweaks procedure following 'Texas 7" man's delayed execution

Patrick Murphy Jr. killed a police officer in Dallas County after he escaped from the Conally Unit.
Patrick Murphy Jr. killed a police officer in Dallas County after he escaped from the Conally Unit. (TDCJ)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas – The Texas Department of Criminal Justice changed a portion of its execution protocol following last month’s reprieve of condemned killer, Patrick Murphy. The 57-year-old was a member of the infamous “Texas 7” gang that escaped from prison and went on a crime spree in December 2000. That spree culminated with the murder of Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins.

While Murphy claimed he did not fire the fatal shots and therefore should not be executed, his execution was stayed on the grounds of religious freedom. Murphy argued his rights were violated because TDCJ would not allow his Buddhist priest to be by his side in the execution chamber. Murphy argued TDCJ allows Christian and Muslim inmates to have state-employed spiritual advisers in the execution chamber and not allowing him to have a Buddhist priest was a violation of his rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Murphy and blocked his scheduled execution. The Texas Attorney General’s Office argued the situation was not about religion, but security. TDCJ employs Christian and Muslim spiritual advisers, but does not employ a Buddhist priest. TDCJ policy requires only employees who have been through security checks and vetted be allowed in the execution chamber. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued the state’s protocols prohibiting non-employee spiritual advisors from being in the execution chamber have been in place since 2012.

TDCJ does allow nonemployee spiritual advisers to witness executions from one of two witness chambers. TDCJ officials also said Murphy had access to, and met with, his spiritual adviser on the day of his scheduled execution.

As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, Texas issued new execution protocols regarding spiritual advisers.

“In response to a recent ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has made a change to its execution protocol to only allow TDCJ security personnel in the execution chamber. TDCJ chaplains will continue to be available to an offender until they are transferred to the execution chamber. This change is effective immediately,” TDCJ’s director of communications, Jeremy Desel, wrote in a statement to KPRC.

Specifically, the new protocol reads, “Only TDCJ security personnel shall be permitted in the execution chamber. The CID Director or designee and the Huntsville Unit Warden or designee shall accompany the offender while in the Execution Chamber. TDCJ Chaplains and Ministers/Spiritual Advisors designated by the offender may observe the execution only from the witness rooms.”

When asked whether the new protocol will apply when Murphy is granted a new execution date Desel responded, “It is effective immediately and will be used going forward.”

Desel also said the new protocol will not impact a condemned inmate’s access to a chosen spiritual adviser on the day of execution and only applies to who is allowed in the execution chamber.