Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejects commutation or reprieve for Patrick Murphy

Today, by a vote of 7 to 0, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Patrick Murphy’s request for the commutation of his death sentence or, in the alternative, a 90-day reprieve in order to await legislation that has been filed in the 86th Texas Legislature.  Murphy is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on Thursday, March 28, 2019.

Here is a statement from his attorneys:

Statement from Attorneys David R. Dow and Jeff Newberry in Response to the Board’s Rejection of Patrick Murphy’s Clemency Petition

“It is unconscionable that Patrick Murphy may be executed for a murder he did not commit that resulted from a robbery in which he did not participate, at the exact moment when lawmakers are considering whether anyone possibly convicted under Section 7.02(b) of the Texas Penal Code should be eligible for the death penalty. 

We now turn our attention to Governor Greg Abbott and ask him to use his authority to grant Murphy a one-time, 30-day reprieve pending any action on House Bill 4113 or Senate Bill 929 in the current legislative session.  In doing so, he will be acting in the interest of fairness and justice by giving Murphy a chance to pursue further relief should these bills become law.”

–        David R. Dow and Jeff Newberry, Counsel for Patrick Murphy, March 26, 2019

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Background on the case and status of other legal filings

On Thursday, March 28, 2019, the State of Texas is scheduled to execute Patrick Murphy for the death of Officer Aubrey Hawkins.  Hawkins was killed during the robbery of an Oshman’s sporting goods store in Irving in 2000.  Although Murphy had left the store parking lot before Officer Hawkins was killed and never entered the store, and although Murphy had no reason to know others had any intention of committing any act of violence, he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2003 under Texas’ law of parties.  This law holds a person criminally responsible for the actions of another if they enter into a conspiracy to commit a felony that results in a death even if they do not participate in either the felony or the murder.

Bipartisan bills have been filed in the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate that address the extent of a defendant’s criminal responsibility for the conduct of a co-conspirator in certain capital felony cases.  Instead of addressing the law of parties in its entirety, these bills recognize the critical difference between convictions under Section 7.02(a) and Section 7.02(b). Specifically, convicting a defendant under Section 7.02(a) requires a jury to find the defendant participated to some degree in the murder, the underlying felony, or both. Convicting a defendant under 7.02(b) requires a jury to make no such finding.  House Bill 4113 and Senate Bill 929 remove the death penalty as a sentencing option for those possibly convicted of capital murder as a party under Section 7.02(b) of the Texas Penal Code.

Status of other legal filings

Around 10 PM on Monday, March 25, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Murphy’s suggestion to reconsider his initial writ application, denied leave to file a petition for a writ of prohibition, and denied his motion to stay his execution. 

On March 26, 2019, attorneys for Murphy filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas a motion for a stay of execution pending the resolution of his complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Murphy’s request for a reasonable accommodation to have a Buddhist priest instead of a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber has been denied by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Murphy is asking the U.S. District Court to provide injunctive relief ensuring that he is executed in a manner that does not substantially burden the exercise of his religious beliefs and complies with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.