LOUISVILLE,  Ky. (AP) – If Kentucky’s lone Jewish inmate on death row wants to mark the  Sabbath, he’ll have to do it from a cell in a secure unit for now.

The Kentucky  Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that prison officials are not violating the  religious freedom rights of 40-year-old William  Harry Meece, who is awaiting execution for the slayings of three people in  Adair County in 1993, by having him pray in his cell.

Judge Laurence  VanMeter, writing for a three-judge panel, concluded that prison policy  correctly prevents Meece from being allowed into the Institutional  Religious Center at the Kentucky  State Penitentiary in Eddyville because of security concerns. As a death row  inmate, Meece lives in the Special Security Unit near the other condemned  inmates and apart from the other 800-plus inmates.

Meece  sued the Kentucky  Department of Corrections in 2007, accusing the agency of violating the  Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits burdens on  the ability of prisoners to worship as they please.

Meece  had claimed that it was a burden to pray in his small cell and that prison  policies kept him from covering up the toilet or praying near it. The judge  disagreed, saying Meece can pray near a toilet and cover it with  a sheet.

The  inmate also claimed he should be allowed to go to the prison’s chapel on his own  or with other Jewish inmates on the Sabbath, which goes from sundown Friday to  sundown Saturday. He is currently allowed to join Roman Catholics on death row  for Thursday services and Protestants on Sunday.

“These  restrictions can best be described as an inconvenience to Meece’s desired  approach to practice his religion, but in no way inhibit his expression of  religious beliefs,” VanMeter wrote.

Meece,  in letters to The  Associated Press before the ruling came down, railed against the Corrections  Department policy saying “I’ll die or get killed” rather than follow the  state’s rules.

“Aren’t  you proud of your tax dollars at work?” Meece wrote. “Emotionally, it deprives  even that basic spiritual recharge. And I fight on.”

Prosecutors  say Meece shot and killed Joseph and Elizabeth  Wellnitz and their son, Dennis, at their home on Feb. 26, 2003, in Columbia  in Adair County. The daughter, Meg  Wellnitz Appleton, pleaded guilty last year to three counts of complicity to  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.

Kentucky  is implementing a new execution method, which should be in place later  this year.

In  letters to The Associated Press, Meece has denied taking part in the slayings  and said police forced a confession from him.

“I.  Did. Not. Murder. The Wellnitz Family,” Meece wrote.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle


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