Death row inmate pleads with state not to autopsy body

Death row inmate pleads with state not to autopsy body

An Alabama death row inmate who is set to be executed by lethal injection next week has asked the state to forgo an autopsy of his body after he is put to death, saying it would violate his religious beliefs as a practising Muslim, a lawsuit says.

Keith Gavin, who is set to be executed next Thursday or Friday, says his body will be subjected to an “invasive autopsy” that would violate his “sincerely held religious beliefs”, as well as Alabama state law, according to the complaint filed by his attorneys last month.

Among those named as defendants in the lawsuit are Escambia County District Attorney Steve Billy, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner John Hamm and Terry Raybon, warden of the William C Holman Correctional Facility where Gavin is incarcerated on death row.

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The complaint is seeking a judicial order preventing the defendants from performing the autopsy and requiring them “to respect Mr Gavin’s constitutional rights and sincerely held religious beliefs”.

Gavin is a devout Muslim, the complaint says, and his religion “teaches that the human body is a sacred temple, which must be kept whole”.

An autopsy, he says, would desecrate his body and “violate the sanctity of keeping his human body intact” along with his right to the free exercise of his religion.

The lawsuit claims Gavin’s attorneys have repeatedly attempted to reach state officials in charge of the autopsy process regarding his request for his “earthly remains to be handled consistent with his faith”, but have received no response.

Immediately after Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed Gavin’s April 25 letter setting his execution date, the lawsuit says the defendants failed to respond to phone calls, emails and in-person visits or have declined to speak with Gavin’s attorneys.

Under Alabama law, a medical examiner is required to investigate any death that takes place in any penal institution in the state, and the law gives discretion to state officials to order a postmortem autopsy if the death is “unlawful, suspicious or unnatural”.

“This law is intended to establish with certainty the cause of death in any such event. After Mr Gavin’s execution, there will be no question as to who or what caused Mr Gavin’s death. The State will execute him by lethal injection,” the lawsuit argues.

CNN has reached out to the Alabama Department of Corrections and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office for comment on the lawsuit.

Alabama has faced scrutiny over its executions after multiple failed lethal injections prompted an internal review of the state’s capital punishment system in 2022.

Ivey asked the state Department of Corrections to conduct a “top-to-bottom review of the state’s execution process” after the problems came into the national spotlight, CNN previously reported.

The state resumed executions last spring after the review was completed.

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