Press Release

Fifth Circuit upholds stay of execution for Buddhist inmate seeking right to priest in death chamber Fifth Circuit grants emergency relief to Texas inmate after state denies access to spiritual advisor

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

WASHINGTON – In an emergency ruling, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Murphy v. Collier has upheld a stay of execution for inmate Patrick Murphy, who seeks access to a Buddhist priest in the hours before his death. The decision came after Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief, arguing that prisoners condemned to death have a fundamental First Amendment right to the comfort of clergy in their last hours. Murphy’s execution had been scheduled for tomorrow, November 13. Texas may still appeal the decision to the entire Fifth Circuit or to the United States Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court had first stayed Murphy’s execution in March, after Becket filed a prior emergency friend-of-the-court brief in support of the right to comfort of clergy. When that stay expired, on Thursday a Houston federal district court stayed Murphy’s execution a second time, prompting the State of Texas to file an emergency appeal to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans the same day. Texas had adopted a new policy blocking all spiritual advisors from entering the chamber, in addition to restricting Murphy’s access to his spiritual advisor in the hours before death.

“The Fifth Circuit did the right thing in stopping this execution,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior attorney at Becket. “Death row should not be a religion-free zone.”

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby at or 202-349-7219. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.