The Texas Department of Criminal Justice released its new protocols for allowing spiritual advisors to be present in the execution chamber at the time of an inmate’s death. This reversal comes two years after TDCJ halted the practice.
TDCJ’s Jeremy Desel explains one of the requirements is a spiritual advisor, who is not a TDCJ employee, must have a documented relationship with a death row inmate before their scheduled execution date.
“They have to be on the inmate’s visitation list, have to have proven meetings with the offender outside of the execution process, they have to go through a vetting process on our end,” said Desel.
That vetting process includes passing a security background check. Desel said a spiritual advisor must also attend a 2-hour, in-person orientation. The new protocols allow for spiritual advisors of all faiths to participate.
“As long as they meet those protocols and they can prove they are an accredited minister of whatever their faith then they would potentially be able to be approved,” said Desel.
Desel said approved spiritual advisors will be escorted by an officer from the Office of Inspector General.
While Desel would not comment on why TDCJ implemented these changes, the new protocols follow a 2019 stay of execution for one of the “Texas 7,” Patrick Murphy.
Murphy was one of seven escaped inmates convicted of murdering a police officer in Irving on Christmas Eve in 2000. Murphy sued the state claiming his religious freedoms were violated when TDCJ refused to allow his Buddhist adviser to be at his side during his execution.
At the time, and citing security reasons, only the clergy who worked for TDCJ were allowed inside the execution chamber, and the only clergy employed by the state were of Christian and Muslim faiths.
The Supreme Court halted the execution so the matter could be reviewed.
Shortly after Murphy’s stay, TDCJ banned any clergy or spiritual advisors from being present in the execution chamber.
Another inmate, Ruben Gutierrez, was also granted a stay of execution in 2020 on similar grounds.
Gutierrez was convicted of murdering an 85-year old Brownsville woman during a robbery in 1998. Gutierrez also sued the state, claiming his religious rights were violated because he could not have a Catholic priest at his side during his execution. Both cases remain pending.