Jewish death row prisoner Jedidiah Murphy executed in Texas

Murphy was killed on the annual World Day Against the Death Penalty, following days of intense legal battles


Jewish prisoner Jedidiah Murphy was put to death by the state of Texas late on Tuesday evening, after the US Supreme Court quashed an earlier ruling to grant him a reprieve.

His execution brought to an end to an intense legal saga, with his lawyers arguing that the evidence that led to him being sentenced to death was deeply flawed.

The Associated Press reported that Murphy was pronounced dead at the state prison in Huntsville after being injected with a lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital. He had been on death row for 22 years after being convicted of murdering Bertie Lee Cunningham, 79, in 2000. 

Strapped to the gurney as he waited to die, Murphy, 48, was allowed to make a final statement. “To the family of the victim, I sincerely apologise for all of it,” he said.

The AP reported that Murphy, a halachic Jew who had a death row bar mitzvah ceremony in 2016, then started to recite Psalm 24, ending with the words “The Lord redeems the soul of his servants, and none of those who trust in him shall be condemned.”

He then shouted “Bella is my wife!” and lost consciousness shortly afterwards. He was pronounced dead at 10.15 local time, 25 minutes after the drug was first administered.

His execution, on the annual World Day Against the Death Penalty, followed days of intense legal battles which saw him first win, then lose his chance of a reprieve.

At the time he committed the murder he was suffering from psychotic delusions and a severe personality disorder, the product of an abusive childhood mostly spent in care.

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. 

To persuade Murphy’s jury that he did, the prosecution presented what his lawyers called “false testimony” that linked him to a carjacking that took place three years before Cunningham was shot. 

Murphy had never been investigated or charged with this crime, but prosecutors claimed he had committed it.

The US Fifth Circuit appeals court stayed his execution on Monday after being told that  Murphy had an alibi for this crime, that his fingerprints did not match those left on the stolen vehicle, and that DNA samples left by the perpetrator had never been tested.

A separate stay was ordered by a court in Houston on the basis that the drugs Texas planned to use to kill him had been subjected to very high temperatures when the building they were stored in caught fire.

Both reprieves were quashed by the Supreme Court.

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