One of the two surviving members of the Texas 7 gang of escaped prisoners has received another stay of execution.
Patrick Henry Murphy Jr. was to be executed Nov. 13, but that execution is now on hold for a second time.
Murphy was one of six men convicted in 2003 for the Dec. 24, 2000 death of Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins who was shot 11 times and run over by the gang as he investigated a robbery perpetrated by the group.
The Texas 7, made up of Joseph Garcia, Randy Halprin, Larry Harper, Donald Newbury, George Rivas and Michael Rodriguez, escaped the Connally Unit in Kenedy on Dec. 13, 2000. The group was implicated in a number of robberies, including the one in Irving, before they were captured in January 2001 in Colorado. All seven were taken into custody except for Harper, who committed suicide as law enforcement closed in around them. Four of the six imprisoned have been executed; Halprin, who is Jewish, was to be executed Oct. 10 but the order was stayed over claims the judge in his trial was anti-Semitic. More than 100 lawyers supported Halprin's claim.
Murphy was originally scheduled to be executed on March 28, but received a stay of execution after filing a complaint that Texas Department of Criminal Justice protocol did not allow for a spiritual advisor to be present if the advisor was not an employee of the TDCJ.
Murphy is a practicing Buddhist and the TDCJ does not employ a Buddhist chaplain; his lawsuit alleged he would not have been afforded the same treatment as Christian or Muslim inmates who are accompanied in the death chamber by a spiritual advisor or chaplain.
In response, the TDCJ revised it's policy on April 2 that disallowed the presence of any chaplain or spiritual advisor in the execution chamber, removing the concern of discrimination.
On April 18, Murphy amended his complaint to reflect the TDCJ's policy change and focuses now on the interaction an inmate has with their advisor before entering the execution chamber.
Citing discovery, Murphy's lawsuit said all inmates are granted time with their spiritual advisor during business hours 2 1/2 days up to the date of execution. Inmates may only meet with non-TDCJ spiritual advisors in the holding area (referred to as the "death house") between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the day of execution. Between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. preparations are underway for the execution; the inmate is permitted to make phone calls, including to their spiritual advisor, until 5 p.m. From 5 p.m. up to the moment of execution, only TDCJ personnel may interact with the inmate.
The lawsuit goes on to say, "The policy, however," does not place any limitation on visits by TDCJ-employed clergy, 'who appear to have access to an inmate until the minute he enters the execution chamber.' Murphy argues that the amended policy still favors some religions over others because TDCJ-employed chaplains, who are Christian or Muslim, have greater access to the condemned than non-TDCJ employee spiritual advisors."
During the March 28 execution preparation, Murphy alleged during those final hours in which TDCJ denied him in-person access to his chosen spiritual advisor, he interacted with clergy who would "only pray according to [their] faith and [their] belief."
"Murphy argues that the current Texas policy is not neutral toward religion, and also impedes the free exercise of his own. Murphy argues that '[b]eing able to chant with his spiritual advisor until the moment he enters the execution chamber would greatly assist him in maintaining th[e] focus' he needs to 'be reborn in the Pure Land and work towards enlightenment' by 'remain[ing] focused on Buddha while dying.' Murphy argues that allowing his spiritual advisor to remain in the death house after 4 p.m. would have no impact on prison resources."
A new execution date for Murphy has not been set and it's not clear when his suit will be heard in court.
NBC 5's Don Peritz contributed to this report.