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Texas executes man who questioned evidence in deadly carjacking of elderly woman

This photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Jedidiah Murphy.
This photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Jedidiah Murphy.

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A Texas man who unsuccessfully challenged the safety of the state's lethal injection drugs and raised questions about evidence used to persuade a jury to sentence him to death for killing an elderly woman decades ago was executed late Tuesday.

Jedidiah Murphy, 48, was pronounced dead after an injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the October 2000 fatal shooting of 80-year-old Bertie Lee Cunningham of the Dallas suburb of Garland. Cunningham was killed during a carjacking.

"To the family of the victim, I sincerely apologize for all of it," Murphy said while strapped to a gurney in the Texas death chamber and after a Christian pastor, his right hand on Murphy's chest, prayed for the victim's family, Murphy's family and friends and the inmate.

"I hope this helps, if possible, give you closure," Murphy said.

He then began a lengthy recitation of Psalm 34, ending with: "The Lord redeems the soul of his servants, and none of those who trust in him shall be condemned."

After telling the warden he was ready, Murphy turned his head toward a friend watching through a window a few feet from him, telling her, "God bless all of y'all. It's OK. Tell my babies I love them."

Then he shouted out: "Bella is my wife!"

As the lethal dose of pentobarbital took effect, he took two barely audible breaths and appeared to go to sleep, The pastor stood over him, his left hand over Murphy's heart, until a physician entered the room about 20 minutes later to examine Murphy and pronounce him dead at 10:15 p.m., 25 minutes after the drug began.

The execution took place hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an order that had delayed the death sentence from being carried out. The high court late Tuesday also turned down another request to stay Murphy's execution over claims the drugs he was injected with were exposed to extreme heat and smoke during a recent fire, making them unsafe and leaving him at risk of pain and suffering.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday had upheld a federal judge's order from last week delaying the execution after Murphy's lawyers filed a lawsuit seeking DNA testing of evidence presented at his 2001 trial.

But the state attorney general's office appealed the 5th Circuit's decision, with the Supreme Court ruling in Texas' favor.

In their filings, Murphy's attorneys had questioned evidence of two robberies and a kidnapping used by prosecutors to persuade jurors during the penalty phase of his trial that Murphy would be a future danger — a legal finding needed to secure a death sentence in Texas.

Murphy admitted he killed Cunningham but had long denied he committed the robberies or kidnapping. His attorneys argued these crimes were the strongest evidence prosecutors had to show Murphy would pose an ongoing threat, but that the evidence linking him to the crimes was problematic, including a questionable identification of Murphy by one of the victims.

Prosecutors had argued against the DNA testing, saying state law only allows for post-conviction testing of evidence related to guilt or innocence and not to a defendant's sentence. They also called Murphy's request for a stay "manipulative" and say it should have been filed years ago.

"A capital inmate who waits until the eleventh hour to raise long-available claims should not get to complain that he needs more time to litigate them," the attorney general's office wrote in its petition to the high court.

Prosecutors said the state presented "significant other evidence" to show Murphy was a future danger.

In upholding the execution stay, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said another case before it that was brought by a different Texas death row inmate raised similar issues and it was best to wait for a ruling in that case.

Murphy had long expressed remorse for killing Cunningham.

"I wake up to my crime daily and I've never gone a day without sincere remorse for the hurt I've caused," Murphy wrote in a message he sent earlier this year to Michael Zoosman, who had corresponded with Murphy and is co-founder of L'chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty. Murphy is Jewish.

Murphy's lawyers had said he also had a long history of mental illness, was abused as a child and was in and out of foster care.

Zoosman said Murphy's repentance should have been considered in his case but "the reality is we don't have a system that's based on restorative justice. We have a system that's based on retributive vengeance."

Murphy's lawyers late Tuesday afternoon also asked the high court to stop the execution over allegations the lethal injection drugs the state would use on him were possibly damaged during an Aug. 25 fire at the Huntsville prison unit where they were stored. The Supreme Court denied that request without comment, in line with similar rulings by a federal judge and a state appeals court.

Murphy was the sixth inmate in Texas and the 20th in the U.S. put to death this year.

Tuesday marked World Day Against the Death Penalty, an annual day of advocacy by death penalty opponents.

Although Texas has been the nation's busiest capital punishment state, it had been seven months since its last execution. Public support and use of the death penalty in the U.S. has been declining in the past two decades.

Three more executions are scheduled in Texas this year.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
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