If you were to just read the headlines about the recent death row execution of Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) inmate Dominique Ray you’d think he was executed without the presence of his imam. The fact is his imam was in attendance and saw him just before he was led into the execution chamber. The imam was just not authorized to be IN the chamber. Period. That’s the issue at hand.
Let me break down the timeline of this case based on court filings:
- 1995: Ray and a friend picks up and murders Tiffany Harville. The crime as described by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a statement released following the execution: “In 1995, Ray brutally deprived young Tiffany Harville of her life, repeatedly stabbing and raping her before leaving her body in a cotton field. A jury gave him a death sentence for this heinous crime. A year before, Ray had also taken the lives of two teenage brothers, Reinhard Mabins and Earnest Mabins. Tonight, Ray’s long-delayed appointment with justice is finally met.”
- July 28, 1999: Ray is convicted. The next day a jury sentences him to death.
- 2006: Ray converts to Muslim faith
- 2015: Ray starts worshiping with current imam Yusef Maisonet of Masjid As Salaam
- November 9, 2018: DOC sets Ray’s February
- January 23, 2019: Ray makes his first request to warden Cynthia Stewart, to have imam at his side during execution
- Jan. 28, 2019: Ray files suit to stay his execution.
- Feb. 06, 2019: 11th Court of Appeals issues an order to stay execution
- Feb. 07, 2019 U.S. Supreme Court rules in 5-4 decision to vacate the stay of execution and Ray is executed
First, let me start with this: I agree with the SCOTUS decision and resent the fact that its being misrepresented as an attack on the first amendment or the Muslim faith. The issue here is not Ray’s religion.
This is a cut and dry case of the state following its procedures for carrying out an execution. Procedures it’s important to note experts say are nearly universal in that clergy aren’t allowed in chambers in most places. The state very well may need to review their procedures for executions, rarely have I seen up to date regulations or procedures for a government agency that reflect all possible situations. True those changes may need to be reflect policies that would allow clergy of other faiths to be trained and authorized to be in the execution chambers of an inmate their the death penalty carried out. It was right of SCOTUS to say that the state should not be forced or rushed to do so.
Ray’s rights to exercise his religion were not thwarted as many are claiming. His clergy man of choice was allowed to see him before the execution and attend just not be at his side. He was also able to ask that the Christian minister who had attended every execution since 1990 also not be there and that request was granted. If they would not have allowed his imam to see or give him late rites at all his rights surly would have been infringed upon.
He could have asked about procedures at any time. It’s not as though the rules were arbitrary. His imam has been visiting the prison for three years, he could have inquired on behalf of those he leads.
It wasn’t a matter of religion it was a matter of department policy and security clearance and specialized training. Again, should the imam want to receive that the state should not be able to refuse it but the burden wasn’t on the state to rush a new guideline or to halt an execution over it.