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Ray v. Dunn

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

February 1, 2019

DOMINEQUE HAKIM MARCELLE RAY, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON DUNN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray is set to be executed on February 7, 2019 - punishment for robbing, raping, and murdering fifteen-year-old Tiffany Harville. This case is not about whether Ray may be executed; other courts have affirmed his death sentence.[1] This case is instead about when the execution will take place, who will be inside the execution chamber, and how the execution will be carried out. To be specific, Ray seeks an eleventh-hour stay of his execution so that the court can resolve three issues. The first is whether Ray may have a private spiritual advisor inside the execution chamber during his execution. The second is whether Ray may exclude a state chaplain from the execution chamber. The third is whether Ray may elect to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia instead of by lethal injection.

         It is undeniably difficult for an inmate to show that he is entitled to a stay. Among other things, he must show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits and that a stay would not harm the public interest. DeYoung v. Owens, 646 F.3d 1319, 1324 (11th Cir. 2011). This bar is even higher when an inmate waits too long to request a stay. In fact, courts apply “a strong equitable presumption against the grant of a stay where a claim could have been brought at such a time as to allow consideration of the merits without requiring entry of a stay.” Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 584 (2006) (quoting Nelson v. Campbell, 541 U.S. 637, 650 (2004)).

         Ray could have brought this case long before he did, and he has not overcome the resulting “strong equitable presumption” against a stay. Ray also fails to show that he has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits and that a stay would not harm the public interest. As a result, Ray is not entitled to a stay of execution. The court will enter a consent order requiring that the state prison chaplain not be in the execution chamber during Ray's execution. But the court will not order the State to let Ray's private spiritual advisor be in the execution chamber.[2] Nor will it order the State to execute Ray by nitrogen hypoxia.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Ray is set to be executed for the 1995 murder of Tiffany Harville.

         In 1995, Ray robbed, raped, and murdered fifteen-year-old Tiffany Harville. He had previously murdered two teenaged brothers. He was convicted in Dallas County Circuit Court of both capital murder committed during first-degree rape and capital murder committed during first-degree robbery. The jury recommended a death sentence by a vote of eleven to one, and the judge sentenced Ray to death. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed on direct appeal. Ray v. State, 809 So.2d 875, 891 (Ala.Crim.App.2001), cert. denied, 809 So.2d 891 (Ala. 2001), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1142 (2002).

         After his direct appeal, Ray collaterally attacked his conviction in state court. The Dallas County Circuit Court denied Ray's petition after a three-day evidentiary hearing. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Ray v. State, 80 So.3d 965, 997 (Ala.Crim.App.2011), cert. denied, 80 So.3d 997 (Ala. 2011).

         Ray then filed a federal habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The Southern District of Alabama denied Ray's petition in its entirety. Ray v. Thomas, No. 11-cv- 543, 2013 WL 5423816, at *61 (S.D. Ala. Sept. 27, 2013). It also denied a certificate of appealability, id., and a motion to alter or amend the judgment, Ray v. Thomas, No. 11-cv-543, 2013 WL 5979757, at *9 (S.D. Ala. Nov. 12, 2013). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Ray v. Ala. Dep't of Corr., 809 F.3d 1202, 1211 (11th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 417 (2016), reh'g denied, 137 S.Ct. 844 (2017).

         On November 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of Alabama set February 7, 2019, as Ray's execution date. Ray v. Thomas, No. 11-cv-543, Doc. # 50 (S.D. Ala. filed Nov. 6, 2018). He will be executed at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. See Ala. Code § 15-18-82(b).

         B. The State protocol for executions

          A death-row inmate in Alabama has religious rights during the days and hours approaching his execution. Executions are on Thursdays, starting at 6:00 p.m. An inmate may visit with family, friends, attorneys, and spiritual advisors of his choice on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before his execution. He may also visit with family, friends, attorneys, and spiritual advisors of his choice until 4:30 p.m. on the day of execution. These are all “contact visits, ” meaning no barrier is between the inmate and his guests.

         When goodbyes are said at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, the inmate is taken to a holding cell next to the death chamber. A private spiritual advisor may accompany the inmate to the holding cell to await the final walk to the chamber. But the State does not let the private spiritual advisor accompany the inmate into the execution chamber itself. Instead, the advisor must stay a few feet behind the glass wall of the chamber, in the viewing area reserved for the inmate's family and friends. There is no contact between the inmate and those in the viewing area.

         A state-employed chaplain is a member of the execution team and is usually in the death chamber during executions. The current chaplain is a Christian. The state has never allowed an inmate's private spiritual advisor to be inside the chamber during an execution, regardless of the private spiritual advisor's religious affiliation. (Doc. # 20, at 12.)

         By default, an inmate “shall be executed by lethal injection.” Ala. Code § 15-18-82.1(a). An inmate has “one opportunity to elect that his or her death sentence be executed by . . . nitrogen hypoxia.” Id. § 15-18-82.1(b). But to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, Ray had to request it in writing by July 1, 2018. See Id. § 15-18-82.1(b)(2). He did not elect nitrogen hypoxia until January 29, 2019. (Doc. # 12, at 8, 17.) Because Ray made his election several months too late, the State denied his request.

         C. Ray filed this action ten days before his scheduled execution date.

         Ray is a devout Muslim. According to his attorneys, he has been a Muslim since at least 2006. (Doc. # 10.) Ray has had contact visits with a Muslim spiritual advisor (an imam) during his incarceration, including a contact visit this week. (Doc. # 1, at 7; Doc. # 12, at 7.)

         Because Ray is Muslim, he objects to the presence of a Christian chaplain in the death chamber during his execution. The State agrees not to require its chaplain to be in the chamber. Ray, however, requests more accommodations than that. He wants his private spiritual advisor with him in the death chamber during the execution. He also wants to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia instead of by lethal injection. (Doc. # 1, at 8-12; Doc. # 12, at 14-15.) The State has denied both requests. Ray claims the State's denials substantially burden his religious exercise, that the State lacks a compelling interest, and that the State could further any interests it does have in a less-restrictive manner.

         On January 28, 2019, Ray sued the State under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., and the Establishment Clause of First Amendment. (Doc. # 1.) He filed an Emergency Motion for Stay of Execution on the same day. (Doc. # 4.) On January 31, 2019, the State responded to Ray's initial complaint (Doc. # 11) and Ray filed an amended complaint (Doc. # 12). The court also held a hearing on January 31.

         III. ...


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