Inmate executed over objections of faith leaders

(Photo/Dave Nakayama/CC BY 2.0)

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HUNTSVILLE—Texas executed Christopher Young July 17 for the fatal shooting of a San Antonio convenience store owner over the objections of numerous religious leaders and even the son of the man he killed.

In 2006, Young was sentenced to death for the shooting of Hasmukh Patel during an attempted robbery Nov. 21, 2004.

Juror excluded on basis of church membership

In February, more than 500 religious leaders from 44 states signed a petition requesting a new trial for Young because a prospective juror was excluded on the basis of her church membership.

During jury selection, Myrtlene Williams, an African-American member of the jury panel, was struck from service based on her religious affiliation and involvement in outreach ministries at Calvary Baptist Church in San Antonio. Although she was not directly involved in ministry to prisoners, other members of the outreach program were.

The petition stated membership in a church or involvement in a particular ministry “is not a fair basis for preventing someone from carrying out her civic duty as a juror” and violates the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment.

While the petition did not directly address Young’s guilt or innocence, it asserted his sentencing was “tainted by the decision of the government to strike a juror, not because of her personal beliefs, but solely because she was affiliated with a ministry that works to improve the lives of the poor, the elderly and the incarcerated.”

Signatories of the petition included Roger Olson, the Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary; Jerry Dailey, pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in San Antonio; and Frederick Douglass Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.

Attorneys claimed religious discrimination

Attorneys for Young filed an unsuccessful habeas corpus petition with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, seeking a new trial based on their argument that religious discrimination tainted his conviction.

The Alliance Defending Freedom—a conservative Christian legal organization—filed a friend-of-the-court brief asserting, “The free exercise and equal protection clauses (of the First Amendment) bar striking prospective jurors based on their religious affiliation or status.”

A separate friend-of-the-court brief by two dozen faith leaders—including Jesse Rincones, executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas—also argued the state has no right to exclude a potential juror solely because of religious affiliation.

“The state should be able to use peremptory challenges to remove from a panel potential jurors who minister to prisoners if it believes engaging in this particular ministering activity will make them more likely to favor a criminal defendant. However, a rule that allows the state to remove from the jury anyone who belongs to a church that has even a single member who ministers to prisoners is one that allows the state to prevent any person of faith from serving on a jury,” the brief states.

Application for clemency rejected

Young’s attorneys also filed an application for clemency with the Texas board of Pardons and Paroles, asking that his sentence be commuted or a 120-day reprieve be issued.

Mitesh Patel, son of the shooting victim, joined the plea to the board and Gov. Greg Abbott to grant clemency to Young, saying that “nothing positive comes from his execution.”

Patel noted Young had changed during his 14 years in prison, and his execution would leave his three teenage daughters without a father.

Young’s lawyers sued the pardons and paroles board after they rejected the clemency appeal, arguing their client—an African-American—was denied clemency because of his race. They noted a white Texas inmate, Thomas Whitaker, had received a commutation earlier this year for the killing of his mother and brother.

However, a federal judge in Houston dismissed the suit and refused to stop the execution, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down their appeal of that ruling.

Young was the eighth inmate executed in Texas this year.

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