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Federal judge delays execution of “Texas Seven” prisoner over claims of religious discrimination

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Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Patrick Murphy’s execution was again halted Thursday because Texas death row inmates’ final access to spiritual advisors of their faith differs for Christians and Buddhists.







Murphy, a 58-year-old Buddhist, is one of two surviving members of the infamous “Texas Seven,” a group of escaped prisoners who committed multiple robberies and killed a police officer near Dallas in 2000 during more than a month on the run. Four others have already been executed, one killed himself when police caught up to them in Colorado, and one other remains on death row with Murphy.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court took the rare step of stopping Murphy’s execution hours after it was originally scheduled to begin. Murphy had argued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice violated his religious rights by not allowing a Buddhist chaplain into the execution chamber with him. The department only allowed prison employees in the death chamber, and only Christian and Muslim clerics are employed with the state. Often, a Christian advisor would be in the chamber with the prisoner set to die, reading quietly from the Bible with one hand on the inmate’s leg as lethal drugs were injected.

“As this Court has repeatedly held, governmental discrimination against religion — in particular, discrimination against religious persons, religious organizations, and religious speech — violates the Constitution,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion at the time.







In response, the department changed its policy to disallow spiritual advisors in the execution chamber, regardless of their religion. The state then set a new execution date for Nov. 13.

Murphy then went back to federal court, now arguing that the state’s pre-execution procedure still discriminates against Buddhists. According to the court ruling, all prisoners have access to their spiritual advisor in the 2.5 days before the execution. On the day they are scheduled to die, however, they can only meet with religious advisors not employed by TDCJ between 3 and 4 p.m. Executions are scheduled to begin after 6 p.m., but there are often delays into the evening. Advisors employed by TDCJ, however, are not limited to that one-hour window in the afternoon and “appear to have access to an inmate until the minute he enters the execution chamber,” the ruling states. All of TDCJ’s chaplains currently authorized to be with inmates just before their execution are Christian.







TDCJ argued that the protocol doesn’t favor one religion over another, because their chaplains will listen to, help and be a “calming presence” for all inmates regardless of their religious affiliation, the court order states. They said TDCJ chaplains are encouraged to learn about many religions and may pray with an inmate in his or her faith. But the three Christian chaplains authorized now said they either wouldn’t or were not sure if they would engage in Buddhist chants with an inmate, according to the order.

“Because Murphy believes he can be reborn in the Pure Land and work towards enlightenment only if he is able to remain focused on Buddha while dying, and that being able to chant with his spiritual advisor in the execution chamber would greatly assist him in maintaining this focus, TDCJ’s newly hostile policy violates Murphy’s First Amendment rights,” wrote Murphy’s attorney, David Dow.

U.S. District Judge George Hanks Jr. said in his stay Thursday that Murphy had demonstrated valid concerns about TDCJ’s execution policy.

“The concerns raised by the amended complaint’s focus on the pre-execution procedure are as compelling as those in the original complaint,” he wrote. “If Murphy were Christian, he would have the benefit of faith-specific spiritual support until he entered the execution chamber; as a Buddhist he is denied that benefit.”

With the stay of execution, Hanks said the court will “explore and resolve serious factual concerns about the balance between Murphy’s religious rights and the prison’s valid concerns for security.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is appealing the federal district court’s decision, according to the attorney general’s office.

Murphy was the lookout in the robbery-turned-murder that landed him on death row.

On Christmas Eve in 2000, Murphy remained in the car in front of an Irving sporting goods store, listening to a police scanner while the other six men went inside to rob it, according to court records. He and another escapee later said that Murphy used a two-way radio to warn the others to flee when he heard that police were on their way. As 31-year-old Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins began to drive to the back of the store where the other robbers were, Murphy left the scene on the instruction of the group’s leader.

He said he didn’t find out the other men had shot Hawkins 11 times and run over him in a stolen car until the group reunited later.

Under Texas law, Murphy is just as culpable as the men who fired their weapons at Hawkins because he was participating in the robbery, and a jury determined that either Murphy was acting with the intent to help in the crime, or, even if he had no intent to kill anyone, the murder “should have been anticipated as a result” of the robbery. To be sentenced to death, the jury must have agreed that Murphy at least anticipated the death. The statute is part of a controversial law commonly referred to as the “law of parties,” under which accomplices and triggermen are treated alike.

Murphy’s execution is the 11th in Texas this year to be stayed or withdrawn, including his earlier March execution date, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Eight men have been executed in the state.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/11/07/texas-execution-halted-patrick-murphy-buddhist/.

 

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Former police officers accused of providing false information that caused deadly drug raid

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Houston Police Department

HOUSTON, Texas — A thorough investigation has led to the arrest of two former Houston police officers accused of providing false information that caused a deadly drug raid earlier this year.

Sources from FOX News say former officers Gerald Goines (left) and Steven Bryant (right) were arrested in connection with the drug raid that occurred on January 28.







A civilian identified as Patricia Garcia was also arrested due to her alleged involvement in the incident.

Reports say 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas and 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle were killed in their home during the drug raid.

Five officers were wounded as well, according to FOX, including Goines who was shot during the raid.







Goines is reportedly being Charged with seven counts, including lying in a search warrant and making up an informant who he allegedly said had bought drugs from the home.

He allegedly confessed to buying the drugs himself.







Bryant has been Charged with falsifying records, having allegedly claimed he identified a substance bought from the home as heroin.

FOX says Garcia was Charged with providing false information.

Garcia allegedly called 911 and claimed the people inside the home were drug dealers that were using crack and heroin.

According to the DOJ, she reportedly told police that she could see her daughter inside the home.

Reports say police went to the residence after receiving the call from Garcia.

Gunfire erupted inside the home, leaving Rhogena and Dennis dead and five officers injured.

One of the officers was left paralyzed after the raid, according to FOX.

Goines and Bryant were reportedly relieved of duty after the raid and retired.

Police say they realized Goines had made up the informant when they could not find him during the investigation into the incident.

Authorities reportedly found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine inside the home, but no heroin.

FOX says family and friends of Rhogena and Dennis told police the two never sold drugs.

Goines is reportedly facing up to life in prison.

Sources say Bryant is facing up to 20 years if he is convicted.

Garcia is facing up to five years in prison.

Sources say the former officers are facing state Charges as well.

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Deputy accused of stealing from tornado-damaged Home Depot he was guarding

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Dallas County Sheriff's Office

DALLAS, Texas — A Dallas County Deputy was arrested earlier this afternoon for allegedly stealing from a Home Depot that had been badly damaged by a tornado last month.

The deputy’s mugshot and bond information are currently unavailable.







Sources with CBSDFW say the Deputy, identified as Joseph Bobadilla, had been working off-duty as a guard at the Home Depot located on Forest Lane.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department said Bobadilla has been Charged with Theft of Property worth $750 to $2,500, which will be enhanced due to him being a public servant.

Bobadilla allegedly took products from the damaged store, exchanged them at a different Home Depot for store credit, and used that credit to purchase items.







CBSDFW says police removed a new laundry machine from Bobadilla’s home after executing a search warrant at his residence.

“The Dallas Sheriff’s Office does not condone or support employees that break the law,” said Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown. “Our core values are integrity, professionalism and accountability and as a result, we will follow the proper procedures and guidelines in place to uphold the law and ensure the deputy is held responsible for his actions.”







Texas Breaking News will update you once more information on this ongoing investigation is available.

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Gun owner shot and killed while trying to stop robbery

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Houston Police Department

HOUSTON, Texas Houston Police are searching for two male suspects who shot and killed a man while robbing a pawn shop.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the robbery took place Wednesday night in southwest Houston when two masked men entered the EZ Pawn store located in the 6000 block of Bellaire Boulevard.







Police say the masked men forced employees onto their knees and rushed to the back of the store while a citizen with a licensed concealed handgun waited for them to return to the front of the store.

Once the suspected robbers went back to the front, the citizen drew his gun and reportedly exchanged gunfire with the two suspects.

Sources say the citizen was struck several times and fell to the floor.







The suspects then fled the scene; Police are not sure if either of them was shot.

The injured gunowner was rushed to a nearby hospital where sources say he was pronounced dead.







The two suspects are still at large and are currently wanted by law enforcement.

They are only described as black males in their early to mid-20s.

One suspect was wearing a white jacket and grey hood, blue sweatpants, white shoes and a black mask.

The other suspect wore a grey hoodie, white pants, white shoes and a red mask.

If you have any information on the suspects, contact the HPD Homicide Division at 713-308-3600.

 

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