April 3 (UPI) -- Texas officials on Wednesday banned any chaplain from entering the state's execution chambers less than one week after the Supreme Court stayed the lethal injection of an inmate prevented from having a Buddhist spiritual adviser with him.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said changed its execution protocol directly in response to the high court ruling. Only security personnel may enter the execution chamber in future executions, TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel said in an email to UPI.
Under the new protocols, TDCJ chaplains will be available to the inmates until they are transferred to the execution chamber. Ministers and spiritual advisers also may observe executions from the witness rooms.
On March 29, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to stay the execution of Patrick Murphy on the grounds of religious discrimination after the TDCJ prevented his spiritual adviser from being with him in the execution chamber. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch voted against the stay.
Murphy was one of the so-called Texas Seven, a group of escaped prisoners who killed a police officer in 2000.
On Dec. 13, 2000, the seven men overpowered prison workers at the Connally Unit in Karnes County using a detailed plan to break out of the unit. They took their uniforms, several weapons and more than 100 rounds of ammunition. They fled north in a prison truck.
On Christmas Eve, a botched robbery at a sporting goods store in Irving ended in a shootout between the escaped convicts and officer Aubrey Hawkins.
According to court records, Hawkins died shortly after arriving on the scene after being shot nearly a dozen times. The "Texas Seven" drove to Colorado, hiding in an RV park until January. One group member, Larry Harper, killed himself.
Under Texas' law of parties -- which holds all individuals responsible for a crime, regardless of their role -- the six were convicted in Dallas of capital murder.
Murphy said he was standing at the front of the sporting goods store as lookout when Hawkins arrived on the scene and drove around to the back where the other six were. Murphy said he didn't know the officer died until after the seven left the area.
"My role was basically really to be the getaway driver," he said.
Murphy converted to Buddhism during his incarceration, and about a month before his scheduled execution his lawyers requested that his Buddhist priest be permitted in the execution chamber, which was denied by the TDCJ.
Lower state and federal courts denied Murphy's appeal, claiming it was filed too late, an argument that Justice Brett Kavanaugh disagreed with, saying it was filed in a "sufficiently timely manner."
Kavanaugh said in the written decision, Texas policy allows a Christian or Muslim inmate a state-employed leader of either religion present in the execution chamber during the execution while inmates of other religious denominations, such as Buddhism, can only have their religious advisors in the viewing room.
"In my view, the Constitution prohibits such denominational discrimination," he said, adding "what the state may not do, in my view, is allow Christian or Muslim inmates but not Buddhist inmates to have a religious advisor of their religion in the execution room."
Kavanaugh said Texas had two options: either allow all inmates to have a religious advisor of their choice in the chamber or allow none to have an advisor in the chamber.
"In any event, the choice of remedy going forward is up to the state," he said.Darryl Coote contributed to this report.