Judge stays 'Texas 7' gang member execution for 2nd time

HOUSTON (AP) -- A federal judge on Thursday stayed the execution of a "Texas 7" gang member who was convicted in the killing of a police officer because the state has refused to provide him with a Buddhist chaplain in the death chamber.

The U.S. Supreme Court initially blocked Patrick Murphy's execution in March, saying his religious rights would be violated if no Buddhist chaplain was present.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion that Texas can't move forward with Murphy's execution unless the state permits his Buddhist adviser or another Buddhist reverend of the state's choosing to accompany him in the death chamber.

The state had employed only Christian and Muslim chaplains and prohibited non-prison employees inside the death chamber for security reasons. Following the Supreme Court's ruling, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in April banned all clergy in death chambers and rescheduled Murphy's execution for Nov. 13.

But U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks stayed Murphy's execution once again on Thursday, days before he was scheduled for lethal injection.

"Murphy's deposition demonstrates valid concerns about the current TDCJ policy," Hanks wrote in the ruling.

Murphy has said he felt "an underlying current of a little bit of pressure ... to make a last-minute conversion to Christianity" despite his Buddhist beliefs, court records show.

Hanks proposed ending "denominational discrimination" by "ending all contact with all clergy at the same hour for all inmates or (by) allowing all inmates equal access to their chosen spiritual advisers before they enter the death chamber."

A date will be set for new arguments in this case in federal court.

Murphy and six inmates escaped prison in 2000 and committed numerous robberies, during which they killed Irving police Officer Aubrey Hawkins. One member subsequently killed himself as police closed in on the group. Four have been executed, while Murphy and Randy Halprin await execution.