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Federal appeals court blocks execution over state’s barring of imam

Brandon Moseley

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A federal appeals court panel has blocked tonight’s scheduled execution of Dominique Ray over the state’s refusal to allow his imam in the execution room with him.

The three-judge Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel issued a stay of execution over concerns that Alabama may have violated the establishment clause of the Constitution.

On January 23, Holman Warden Cynthia Stewart met with Ray and told him that Chaplain Chris Summers would be with him in the execution room as he died, as is customary in the state of Alabama.

Ray is a Muslim. He requested that no Christian chaplain be present at his execution. The state agreed to that request; however, denied Ray’s second request that his imam be with him. Authorities would allow the imam to counsel Ray before his death, but would not allow the imam in the execution room citing security concerns.

The Alabama Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement supporting Ray.

“We welcome this decision and hope Mr. Ray will ultimately be provided equal access to spiritual guidance,” said Ali Massoud, government affairs coordinator for CAIR-Alabama.

The Constitution forbids a state establishing a state religion. Ray’s defense teams claim that the provision allowing Christian chaplain access to the execution room; but barring a Muslim’s imam is giving special privileges to Christianity and is thus unconstitutional. The case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Dominique Ray was scheduled to be executed tonight at 6:00 p.m. at Holman Prison.
Ray, age 42, was convicted of murdering. robbing, and raping 15-year-old Tiffany Harville on July 15, 1995. Ray and Marcus Owden raped Harville and then cut her throat. Ray was one of the volunteers helping her mother search for the girl. A month later, a farmer found Harville’s decomposing corpse in a cotton field. In 1997 Owden confessed to the killing and implicated Ray. Ray was convicted and has since confessed to the crime.

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Ray is scheduled to die by lethal injection.

Alabama has executed 62 men and one woman since executions resumed in 1983.

To see the list of people executed by the state of Alabama, click here.

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