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Alabama executes Muslim inmate who wanted imam present

Dominique Ray, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, complained in a challenge that he wasn't allowed an imam to be present.

ATMORE, Ala. — A Muslim inmate who complained in a legal challenge that Alabama wouldn’t let his Islamic spiritual adviser be present in the execution chamber was put to death Thursday after the nation’s highest court cleared the way.

Dominique Ray, 42, was pronounced dead at 10:12 p.m. of a lethal injection at the state prison in Atmore.

Ray had argued Alabama’s execution procedure favors Christian inmates because a Christian chaplain employed by the prison typically remains in the execution chamber during a lethal injection, but the state would not let his imam be present.

Image: Dominique Ray
This undated photo from the Alabama Department of Corrections shows inmate Dominique Ray.Alabama Department of Corrections via AP

Attorneys for the state said only prison employees are allowed in the chamber for security reasons.

Prison system spokesman Bob Horton said Ray was visited by his imam both Wednesday and Thursday. Ray’s imam, Yusef Maisonet, watched the execution from an adjoining witness room. There was no Christian chaplain in the chamber.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday had stayed the execution over the religious arguments, but the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for it to proceed in a 5-4 decision Thursday evening.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent that the dissenting justices considered the decision to let the execution go forward "profoundly wrong."

Other states generally allow spiritual advisers to accompany condemned inmates up to the execution chamber but not into it, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which studies capital punishment in the United States.

Durham said he did not know of any other state where the execution protocol calls for a Christian chaplain to be present in the execution chamber.

Ray was sentenced to death for the 1995 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. Tiffany Harville disappeared from her Selma home on July 15, 1995, and her decomposing body was found one month later in a cotton field.

It was Alabama’s first execution of the year.

Ray was convicted in 1999 after another man, Marcus Owden, confessed to his role in the crime and implicated Ray. Owden told police that they had picked the girl up for a night out on the town and then raped her. Owden said that Ray cut the girl’s throat. Owden pleaded guilty to murder, testified against Ray and is serving a life sentence without parole.

A jury recommended the death penalty for Ray by an 11-1 vote.

Ray’s attorneys had also asked in legal filings to stay the execution on other grounds. Lawyers say it was not disclosed to the defense team that records from a state psychiatric facility suggested Owden suffered from schizophrenia and delusions.

The Supreme Court also rejected that claim Thursday.