An Alabama man was executed Thursday after the Supreme Court denied his request to have his Muslim spiritual adviser in the room during his lethal injection, raising questions of religious discrimination and First Amendment violations. This losing case was the last of many legal challenges for Domineque Ray, whose trial and death sentence were an uphill battle from the start.
Ray, who had been previously convicted of murder, was charged in 1999 for the rape, robbery, and murder of 15-year-old Tiffany Harville in a cotton field outside Selma, Alabama, four years earlier. The jury established his guilt after just an hour and 40 minutes of deliberation, and Ray was sentenced to death the next day.
According to a ProPublica story, Ray's lawyers have mounted numerous appeals since he was sentenced. They have argued that Ray's original defense team didn't adequately represent him, that prosecutors may have withheld evidence of other murder suspects, that some members of the jury personally knew the police involved in the case, and that prosecutors withheld evidence that Ray's alleged accomplice and primary accuser was schizophrenic at the time he testified.
Ray also had intellectual and mental-health disorders and suffered tremendous hardship and abuse throughout his life, according to his lawyers. He was raised in poverty and moved from state to state, first with his mother while she worked as a prostitute and then with his father, who regularly beat him, and his stepmother, whose family sexually abused him. His lawyers argue that none of this mitigating evidence was heard when the court was deciding his sentence, since the only witness his defense team arranged—his mother—provided a "brief, incoherent" testimony that did not convey the magnitude of his torment.
"The jurors who recommended death for Domineque heard nothing about Domineque’s haunting, traumatic upbringing, nothing about his schizotypal personality disorder, nothing about the steroid drugs to which Domineque said he had become addicted at age 16, nothing about the beatings he suffered or that he witnessed his mother suffer from a succession of assaultive boyfriends," reads the summary of Ray v. Alabama.
After considering additional mitigating evidence, the state trial court denied Ray's petition, stating that, "[G]iven the brutal nature of the facts surrounding Tiffany Harville's murder, the Court finds that there is no reasonable probability that more details about Ray's home life would have caused a different result in the jury's recommendation at the penalty phase of trial."
Ray fought a legal battle until the end of his life. He requested that his imam be in the room during his execution, but Alabama law only allowed for the presence of the prison's on-staff Christian chaplain. Yusef Maisonet, Ray's imam, could visit him shortly before and watch his execution from behind glass in the next room, they said.
Ray challenged that decision, and a federal appeals court issued a stay of execution on Wednesday on the basis that denying someone solace from a minister of their own faith while routinely allowing the presence of a Christian chaplain raised serious questions of religious discrimination.
In a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court lifted that stay of execution on Thursday, reasoning that Ray had waited too long to challenge the policy. Justice Elena Kagan, one of the four dissenting justices, called this decision "profoundly wrong" and wrote that the decision to deny Ray the presence of his imam "goes against the Establishment Clause's core principle of denominational neutrality."