Arizona prisoner seeks to have a spiritual advisor present during his execution
An Arizona death row inmate says his religious rights will be violated if he does not have access to his spiritual advisor during his eventual execution.
The Arizona Supreme Court recently granted the state’s request to establish an information timeline for Frank Atwood, who was sentenced to death in Pima County in 1987 for the murder of an 8-year-old girl. years, Vicki Lynne Hoskinson.
Atwood is currently being held in the Browning Unit at the Eyman State Penitentiary Complex in Florence.
In early May, the Court will hold a conference where it could decide whether to grant a warrant and set a date for Atwood’s execution.
If that happens, Atwood, who practices the Greek Orthodox faith, wants his priest to be able to lay hands on him and pray for him during the execution.
Current Department of Corrections protocols allow a spiritual advisor to speak with the prisoner in the death chamber from another room via a microphone, but do not allow them to be in the same room as the prisoner.
Atwood’s attorneys filed a lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court in Arizona, Tucson Division, claiming the DOC’s protocols would violate his constitutional rights. They are asking the federal court to stay any pending execution warrants from the state Supreme Court until the DOC changes its execution protocols to allow the spiritual advisor to enter the room and place his hands on Atwood during prayer.
In the complaint, Atwood’s attorneys point to his history of devout faith.
“Although he is incarcerated on Arizona’s death row, he observes a strict schedule of prayer and study under the direction of his priest, Father Paisios, abbot of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Saint Anthony in Florence. , who baptized him into the faith in July 2000,” the lawyers wrote.
The complaint states that Paisios regularly visited Atwood for many years “despite, at various times, the imposition by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry of unlawful restraints.”
According to the complaint, the DOC’s current enforcement protocols violate Atwood’s rights under the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
“Mr. Atwood is requesting that the ADCRR execution protocol be amended to conform with his religious exercise under the law,” his attorney, Joseph Perkovich, said. “If he were to be executed, he seeks to do so in a way that is consistent with the core tenets of his devout Greek Orthodox faith, and seeks to empower his long-time spiritual advisor to administer final rights to him, as the state would attempt to put him to death.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a Texas death row inmate who challenged the state prison system’s ban on the practice of a spiritual counselor laying hands on the prisoner during an execution. Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the prisoner “is at risk of suffering irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction, as he will not be able to engage in protected religious exercise in the last moments of his life.
The Arizona Department of Corrections declined to comment on pending litigation.
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