MONTGOMERY, Ala. —Alabama death row inmate Domineque Ray died by lethal injection Thursday evening with his imam present in an adjoining chamber.
Prison officials recorded his time of death as 10:12 p.m. CT.
Ray was executed after an 11th-hour ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a stay of execution pending a religious rights claim. Ray, a Muslim, had argued Alabama’s practice of including a Christian prison chaplain in the execution chamber was in violation of the First Amendment. Ray sought to have his imam present in the death chamber at the time of his death.
Imam Yusef Maisonet, Ray’s spiritual adviser, witnessed Ray’s execution from a chamber which held media and prison officials. Two lawyers accompanied Maisonet.
When the curtain opened at 9:44 p.m., Ray lifted his head from the gurney, looking into the witness room. With his right hand in a fist, he extended a pointer finger.
Maisonet appeared to mirror the gesture and murmured that it was an acknowledgement of the singular God of the Islamic faith. When asked if he had any final words, Ray gave a brief faith declaration in Arabic.
At 9:48, Ray made a fist with his left hand, raising his head slightly to look at his arm. His left arm shook briefly, before his eyes closed a minute later.
When the curtains to the witness chamber were drawn at 10:05 p.m., Ray’s right pointer remained extended.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously stayed the execution, writing that there was a possibility Alabama had “run afoul” of the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to vacate the stay “because Ray waited until Jan. 28, 2019, to seek relief.”
Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented to the ruling.
“Here, Ray has put forward a powerful claim that his religious rights will be violated at the moment the State puts him to death,” Kagan wrote in her dissent. “The Eleventh Circuit wanted to hear that claim in full. Instead, this Court short-circuits that ordinary process — and itself rejects the claim with little briefing and no argument — just so the State can meet its preferred execution date.”
Ray was sentenced to death for the 1995 rape and fatal stabbing of 15-year-old Tiffany Harville of Selma. Months before his death penalty trial, he was sentenced to life for a 1994 slaying of two teen brothers.
Ray was implicated in the crime after another man, Marcus Owden, confessed to his role in Harville’s kidnapping. Owden testified in a 1999 trial that Ray cut Harville’s throat. Owden is serving a life sentence without parole.
The Supreme Court denied a second stay appeal on Thursday night, in which attorneys said Ray’s original defense team wasn’t informed that Owden suffered from schizophrenia and potential delusions at the time of his trial.
“For 20 years, Domineque Ray has successfully eluded execution for the barbaric murder of a 15-year-old Selma girl,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall in a statement. “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 and Earnest Mabins. Tonight, Ray’s long-delayed appointment with justice is finally met.”
A family member of Harville reached by phone Tuesday declined to comment. Prison officials said Thursday no one from the victim’s family would witness the execution.
Last week, Alabama prison officials argued in court that the prison chaplain is allowed in the execution chamber because he is a Department of Corrections employee trained in execution protocol. ADOC agreed to exclude the chaplain for Ray’s execution.
But after a Wednesday ruling that suggested the state’s practice had “run afoul” of the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment, Alabama amended or altered its lethal injection protocol, according to court records, to exclude the prison chaplain.
Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the department has not yet made changes to its official lethal injection protocol, though the Holman chaplain was not included in Ray’s execution. Dunn said the department conducts an “after-action review” following every state execution and will consider changes then.
Dunn said that execution protocol is a “product of ADOC policy,” and it is within the purview of the department to make changes as it deems necessary.
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