Jewish death row prisoner Jedidiah Murphy has won an eleventh-hour stay of execution but may still be put to death by lethal injection on Tuesday evening after prosecution lawyers appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
The reprieve was ordered by a federal court in Texas, where Murphy, 48, has been on death row since being convicted of the murder of an elderly woman in 2000. It was upheld by a federal appeals court late on Monday, raising hopes among his supporters that his death sentence may soon be commuted to life imprisonment.
But he now may not know whether he is to die today – which happens to be the annual World Day Against the Death Penalty - until shortly before his scheduled execution at 6pm Texas time (midnight in Britain). The Supreme Court has the power to quash his reprieve.
In a moving email to the JC, Murphy describes the anguish of his experience – but also voices his grief at the Hamas attacks against Israel.
The JC has covered Murphy’s case extensively in recent weeks, sparking a huge upsurge in support from around the Jewish world.
His bid for life is being supported by the American lawyer Alan Dershowitz, campaign group L’Chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty, and Murphy’s spiritual adviser Rabbi Dovid Goldstein, director of the Chabad shul in West Houston and the Jewish chaplain to the Texas prison system.
Goldstein supervised and attended Murphy’s death row bar mitzvah in 2016 when he put on tefillin for the first time.
Murphy is one of at least twelve halachically Jewish prisoners on death row in America. Having endured an abusive childhood, much of it spent in care, Murphy was convicted in 2001 of murdering Bertie Lee Cunningham, 79, after hijacking her car.
At the time he committed the crime, he claimed he suffering from psychotic delusions and a severe personality disorder.
Only a tiny percentage of murderers in Texas are sentenced to death, and to do so, the trial jury must be convinced the defendant exhibits a pattern of violent behaviour that means he would be a “continuing threat to society” if sentenced to life imprisonment, rather than death.
In its ruling on Monday, the US Fifth Circuit appeals court says he should not be executed until all the evidential and legal issues surrounding this issue have been resolved.
Despite the imminence of what may still be his own execution, Murphy has sent the JC an email from death row expressing not only his own torment but his horror at the terrorist attacks by Hamas and his concern for the bereaved.
“Hello, this is just a short update that I wanted to send to everyone who is praying and pulling for me and my loved ones,” it says.
“This back and forth is challenging because you go from a gut punch, to hope, to a maybe. The torture of this punishment is not what will happen to me, but what I see happening to my wife and family. They won't make me suffer for what happened 23 years ago by giving me the rest of my life to think about it and everything life in prison brings...but they make my loved ones suffer instead.
“Hopefully and G-d willing I will have this stay STAND. If not, then we all have to accept that this was his will and not ours. I have been blessed and I thank all of you for your prayers and love along the way.
“To the people who are in Israel and who have family there.. May peace come to you all and I grieve along with you for the lives lost and the pain war brings to everyone. Thank you to you all and please stay positive regardless. Be Blessed.
“Shalom Shalom, Jedidiah.”