This Man Didn't Kill Anyone. Texas Plans To Execute Him Tonight Anyway. (UPDATE: Supreme Court Blocks Execution)
Texas' law of parties is to blame.
Patrick Murphy, who's likely to be executed Thursday night for his role in the 2000 murder of a Texas police officer, is not innocent.
Murphy, convicted of sexual assault prior to the murder, was one of the infamous "Texas 7" who escaped from prison and carried out a botched robbery that led to Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins' death. But he did not pull the trigger. Neither was he directly involved in the officer's death, Murphy says.
"I'm not challenging the guilt of the crime," he told CBS Dallas-Fort Worth this week. "My role was basically really to be the getaway driver."
In mid-December 2000, Murphy and six other maximum-security inmates were able to steal weapons from the prison armory and drive off in a truck. They would go on to carry out two robberies, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Their luck ran out on Christmas Eve, as they were in the midst of stealing guns and money from a sporting goods store. A concerned bystander called police, and Hawkins was the first officer to arrive on the scene. Murphy, from his post in front of the sporting goods store, warned his co-conspirators that Hawkins was coming. Hawkins went around to the back of the store and was shot 11 times.
"I didn't even realize shots had been fired for probably 10 or 15 minutes," Murphy told CBS DFW.
Murphy was eligible for the death penalty due to Texas' law of parties. "If, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit one felony, another felony is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed, though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy," the statute reads.
In layman's terms, it mean that if a group of people plan to commit a robbery, and someone is killed in the process, all of them are guilty of murder, so long as they could have reasonably anticipated the death occurring as a result of or in conjunction with the robbery.
Murphy said in his written confession that his "purpose was to if pursued by the police I was to initiate a firefight with the AR-15." So even though he didn't pull the trigger, he was held criminally responsible for Hawkins' death.
"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," Murphy's attorneys, David Dow and Jeff Newberry, said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
As Lauren Krisai, the former director of criminal justice reform at the Reason Foundation, which publishes this website, explained in 2016, these sorts of laws are not limited to Texas.
Consider Ryan Holle. He was convicted of first-degree murder in Florida because he lent his car to two friends, who would go on to commit a robbery and kill an 18-year-old girl. Holle was sentenced to life without parole, even he was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Felony-homicide laws have led to murder charges for people who weren't directly involved in victims' deaths in Virginia and Illinois as well.
Last October in California, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law legislation that limited the state's ability to bring murder charges against people who weren't actually involved.
But it likely won't be enough to save his life. "Five individuals have lost their lives as a result of the role they played in his murder, four of whom have been executed by the State of Texas for their roles in taking Officer Hawkins' life. Carrying out the execution of Patrick Murphy, who neither fired a shot at Officer Hawkins nor had any reason to know others would do so, would not be proper retaliation but would instead simply be vengeance," his attorneys wrote in a clemency petition to the state parole board, according to the Chronicle. The parole board declined to take action, after a state appellate court refused to grant him a stay of execution.
Murphy's hopes now lie with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who can grant clemency, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Murphy converted to Buddhism and wants his spiritual adviser, Rev. Hui-Yong Shih, to be by his side when he's given the lethal injection. Because Shih is not an employee of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, he's not allowed in the death chamber, according to Courthouse News Service.
Murphy alleges his First Amendment right to freedom of religion is being violated, though a federal district and circuit court would not grant him a stay. Murphy has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but admitted to CBS DFW that he's unlikely to be get a favorable ruling there either.
The case draws some parallels to that of Dominique Ray, an Alabama death row inmate who wanted access to an imam before he was executed. As Reason's C.J. Ciaramella reported, the Supreme Court said last month that the execution could move forward because Ray waited too long to file his petition for relief.
Murphy's fate illustrates some of the problems with the death penalty. I've previously argued that the state should not be in the business of killing its own citizens, even mass murderers. "The death penalty is uncivilized in theory and unfair and inequitable in practice," the ACLU rightly says. "Well-publicized problems with the death penalty process—wrongful convictions, arbitrary application, and high costs—have convinced many libertarians that capital punishment is just one more failed government program that should be scrapped," Ben Jones adds at Libertarianism.org.
If the death penalty isn't appropriate for mass murderers, then it's certainly not a suitable punishment for people like Murphy, who, while a criminal, was not directly responsible for a death.
"I don't think sentencing and culpability about law of parties is about justice," he told CBS DFW. "I think it's about vengeance."
UPDATE (10 p.m.): The Supreme Court blocked Murphy's execution tonight on the grounds that the Buddhist priest was not permitted to be with him. In an opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanuagh, the Constitution prohibits such denomination-based discrimination. Read more here.