Supreme Court’s recent actions reveal its death penalty divide

In two recent actions, the U.S. Supreme Court revealed its death penalty decisions are hardly cut and dried.

In late March, the court blocked an execution because an inmate’s religious adviser wasn’t permitted to be present, which contrasted with their decision not to block an execution the previous month in a case also involving a spiritual adviser’s presence at an execution. Three days later, the court narrowly rejected a death-row inmate’s request for an alternative to execution by lethal injection saying this method was not “cruel and unusual punishment.”

On March 29, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Texas death-row inmate Patrick Murphy while he was appealing the state’s refusal to allow a Buddhist spiritual adviser to be present at his execution.

Murphy, a former prison escapee put on death row for his involvement in the death of a police officer, converted to Buddhism while in prison. He was the driver of a getaway car during a robbery in 2000 — with six other escapees known as the Texas 7 — when two members of the group shot and killed the officer.

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