OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A Buddhist spiritual adviser to an Oklahoma death row inmate will be permitted to conduct several religious rituals on the inmate’s body after his execution, an attorney said Wednesday after a federal judge dismissed the inmate’s case.
Donald Ray Wackerly, 41, was seeking to have a Buddhist monk inside the death chamber when he is put to death Thursday for the 1996 shooting death of a Laotian fisherman Pan Sayakhoummane during a robbery in Sequoyah County.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot dismissed the complaint late Wednesday after Wackerly’s attorney, Micheal Salem, said an agreement had been reached with state prison officials.
Under the agreement, once Wackerly has been pronounced dead, his spiritual adviser, Thubten Jampel, will be allowed to enter the execution room to perform several rituals, Salem said.
“Those rituals are consistent with the Buddhist principles that Mr. Wackerly ascribes to,” Salem said. “It’s part of the agreement that once the physician has pronounced death, that the body will not be disturbed or touched by anybody until after the conclusion of Mr. Jampel’s rituals.”
Salem said Jampel will spend 15 or 20 minutes with Wackerly’s corpse.
During Wackerly’s execution, Jampel and several Buddhist monks will be in a viewing room adjacent to the death chamber and will chant in unison a “mantra of ultimate compassion,” Salem said.
The Department of Corrections allowed a condemned prisoner’s spiritual adviser inside the death chamber until 2003, when the policy was changed for security reasons, said prisons spokesman Jerry Massie.
“We had an outside spiritual adviser that we allowed in the execution chamber, and he was on probation and was wearing an ankle bracelet,” Massie said.
A spiritual adviser is allowed to visit with inmates up to 30 minutes before the execution and are permitted to witness the execution from an adjacent viewing room, Massie said.
Salem maintains the Corrections policy is unconstitutional and violates federal law, but he said the agreement was satisfactory to Wackerly.
“At this point, given the circumstances and the shortness of time, this is a reasonable result for this circumstance,” Salem said.
Salem contends prison officials changed the policy in 2003 after a Muslim spiritual adviser, the same man who was on probation and wearing an ankle bracelet, read a page from the Quran in Arabic.
Assistant Attorney General Dan Weitman, who represented the state, argued in his response that Wackerly tried numerous legal avenues to have his sentence stayed or his execution commuted.
“Since plaintiff is now apparently out of options, he brings what can only be termed as a desperate case against these defendants,” Weitman wrote.
Wackerly’s latest motion for a stay challenged Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol. That motion was rejected, and the lower court’s ruling was upheld Tuesday by a federal appeals court.
Wackerly’s execution is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.