LOUISVILLE,Â Ky. (AP) – If Kentucky’s lone Jewish inmate on death row wants to mark theÂ Sabbath, he’ll have to do it from a cell in a secure unit for now.
The KentuckyÂ Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that prison officials are not violating theÂ religious freedom rights of 40-year-old WilliamÂ Harry Meece, who is awaiting execution for the slayings of three people inÂ Adair County in 1993, by having him pray in his cell.
Judge LaurenceÂ VanMeter, writing for a three-judge panel, concluded that prison policyÂ correctly prevents Meece from being allowed into the InstitutionalÂ Religious Center at the KentuckyÂ State Penitentiary in Eddyville because of security concerns. As a death rowÂ inmate, Meece lives in the Special Security Unit near the other condemnedÂ inmates and apart from the other 800-plus inmates.
MeeceÂ sued the KentuckyÂ Department of Corrections in 2007, accusing the agency of violating theÂ Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits burdens onÂ the ability of prisoners to worship as they please.
MeeceÂ had claimed that it was a burden to pray in his small cell and that prisonÂ policies kept him from covering up the toilet or praying near it. The judgeÂ disagreed, saying Meece can pray near a toilet and cover it withÂ a sheet.
TheÂ inmate also claimed he should be allowed to go to the prison’s chapel on his ownÂ or with other Jewish inmates on the Sabbath, which goes from sundown Friday toÂ sundown Saturday. He is currently allowed to join Roman Catholics on death rowÂ for Thursday services and Protestants on Sunday.
“TheseÂ restrictions can best be described as an inconvenience to Meece’s desiredÂ approach to practice his religion, but in no way inhibit his expression ofÂ religious beliefs,” VanMeter wrote.
Meece,Â in letters to TheÂ Associated Press before the ruling came down, railed against the CorrectionsÂ Department policy saying “I’ll die or get killed” rather than follow theÂ state’s rules.
“Aren’tÂ you proud of your tax dollars at work?” Meece wrote. “Emotionally, it deprivesÂ even that basic spiritual recharge. And I fight on.”
ProsecutorsÂ say Meece shot and killed Joseph and ElizabethÂ Wellnitz and their son, Dennis, at their home on Feb. 26, 2003, in ColumbiaÂ in Adair County. The daughter, MegÂ Wellnitz Appleton, pleaded guilty last year to three counts of complicity toÂ murder and is serving life in prison.
Police say Wellnitz’s surviving daughter contrived the murder plot to collect an inheritance. The case lingered for a decade without suspects before police received a tip that Meece and Appleton had talked about being involved in the killings. Meece’s case remains on appeal in federal court.
KentuckyÂ is implementing a new execution method, which should be in place laterÂ this year.
InÂ letters to The Associated Press, Meece has denied taking part in the slayingsÂ and said police forced a confession from him.
“I.Â Did. Not. Murder. The Wellnitz Family,” Meece wrote.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle