Member of ‘Texas 7’ Prison-Break Gang Seeks Stay of Execution

Member of ‘Texas 7’ Prison-Break Gang Seeks Stay of Execution
Texas death row inmate Patrick Murphy. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)

Attorneys for a Texas death row inmate have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his lethal injection until a Buddhist minister can be present with him in the execution chamber.

Patrick Murphy’s lawyers argue that executing the 57-year-old “Texas 7” member without his spiritual adviser present would violate his right to religious freedom. Murphy became a Buddhist almost a decade ago while incarcerated.

A federal appeals court on March 27 denied a request to stay his execution on the same grounds, upholding a lower court decision.

Murphy was scheduled to be executed on the evening of March 28 should be spared because he didn’t fatally shoot a suburban Dallas police officer during a Christmas Eve robbery more than 18 years ago, according to his attorneys.

The 57-year-old is slated to receive lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. He was among the inmates who escaped from a South Texas prison in December 2000 and then committed numerous robberies, including the one in which they shot 29-year-old Irving police Officer Aubrey Hawkins 11 times, killing him.

The 6 Week Manhunt

Hawkins, who had been with the Irving police force about 14 months, had just finished Christmas Eve dinner with his family when he responded to the call about the robbery at a sporting goods store and was ambushed.

The escaped inmates were arrested a month later in Colorado, ending a six-week manhunt. One of them killed himself as officers closed in and the other six were convicted of killing Hawkins and sentenced to death. Murphy would be the fifth to be executed. The sixth inmate, Randy Halprin, has not been given an execution date.

Murphy would be the fourth inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the third executed in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state.

He was convicted under Texas’ law of parties, which holds a person criminally responsible for the actions of another if they are engaged in a conspiracy.

Murphy’s attorneys have filed appeals to stop his execution, arguing his death sentence is unconstitutional because he was only the lookout during the robbery and was not a major participant in the crime, never firing at Hawkins because he had left the scene before the shooting began.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his motion to stay the execution while the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to recommend either a commutation of his sentence or a 90-day reprieve. No appeals were pending with the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It is unconscionable that Patrick Murphy may be executed for a murder he did not commit that resulted from a robbery in which he did not participate,” his attorneys, David Dow and Jeff Newberry, said in a statement.

Murphy, who became a Buddhist almost a decade ago while incarcerated, has also asked that his execution be stopped until prison officials allow his spiritual advisor, a Buddhist priest, to be with him when he is put to death. His lawyers allege the officials’ actions violate Murphy’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The request was turned down this week by a federal judge in Houston and by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Murphy’s attorneys also contend his execution should be stopped because Texas lawmakers are debating in the current legislative session whether to change the law of parties to prohibit a death sentence for any individual convicted for the conduct of a co-conspirator.

Toby Shook, the lead prosecutor who handled Murphy’s case and those of the other five members, said Murphy actively participated in the robbery, monitoring a police scanner from a getaway vehicle and telling the other inmates when Hawkins was coming to the back of the store.

“He alerted them. That allowed them to set up their ambush,” said Shook, who is now a criminal defense attorney in Dallas.

Murphy was serving 50 years for a Dallas sexual assault but was only 15 months away from being released on mandatory parole when he took part in the prison escape.

Shook said Murphy has a very long and violent criminal history, including molesting his step-sister and pulling a gun on his father.

“They all were violent felons,” Shook said. “So, he fit in perfectly with the rest of the Texas 7. He actively participated in all their robberies and all their crimes when they were out on the run.”

By Juan A. Lozano And Michael Graczyk

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