Alabama death row inmate asks for no autopsy after execution due to his religion

A death row inmate in Alabama is asking the state not to perform an autopsy on his body after his execution because of his Muslim faith.

Keith Edmund Gavin, 64, is slated to be executed by lethal injection on July 18 – 26 years after he was convicted of the deadly shooting of a delivery driver.

While Gavin is not fighting to stop his execution from going ahead, he does have a different request he has taken to the courts.

In a lawsuit filed in state court in Montgomery last month, the 64-year-old asked for a judicial order to block the state from carrying out an autopsy on his body after his death.

“Mr. Gavin is a devout Muslim. His religion teaches that the human body is a sacred temple, which must be kept whole. As a result, Mr. Gavin sincerely believes that an autopsy would desecrate his body and violate the sanctity of keeping his human body intact,” his attorneys wrote in the lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press.

“Based on his faith, Mr. Gavin is fiercely opposed to an autopsy being performed on his body after his execution,” they added.

Under Alabama law, autopsies must be carried out to investigate certain deaths, such as deaths in penal institutions. However, Gavin’s attorneys have argued that, given he is being executed by the state, his cause of death will be already known.

“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,” according to the lawsuit, seen by CNN.

Keith Gavin, 64, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on July 18 for a murder carried out 25 years ago (Alabama Department of Corrections/AP)
Keith Gavin, 64, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on July 18 for a murder carried out 25 years ago (Alabama Department of Corrections/AP)

The lawsuit was filed after Gavin’s attorneys claimed there had been no “meaningful discussions” with state officials about his request.

His lawyers added that the filing is not an attempt to stop the execution from going ahead and that “Gavin does not anticipate any further appeals or requests for stays of his execution.”

William Califf, spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that “we are working on a resolution.”

The Independent has contacted Marshall’s office for further comment.

Gavin was convicted of capital murder over the 1998 shooting of delivery driver William Clinton Clayton Jr in Cherokee County, northeast Alabama.

Clayton had stopped to get money out of an ATM machine so he could take his wife to dinner, when he was shot and killed.

Now, Gavin’s execution is set to take place at the  William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, which is the only prison in the state with an execution chamber and where most death row inmates live.

This January, Alabama carried out the US’s first execution using nitrogen gas.– a method that has been slammed by human rights advocates.

Kenneth Smith thrashed violently and repeatedly gasped for air during the 22-minute execution at the William C. Holman prison.

It followed a previous botched attempt to execute Smith using lethal injection in 2022 that ended up being called off because authorities could not put intravenous lines into his system. Smith claimed the experience left him with physical and psychological pain, including post-traumatic stress disorder, leading him to opt to die by nitrogen gas.

The Independent and the non-profit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ) have launched a joint campaign calling for an end to the death penalty in the US. The RBIJ has attracted more than 150 well-known signatories to its Business Leaders Declaration Against the Death Penalty – with The Independent as the latest on the list. We join high-profile executives including Ariana Huffington, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson as part of this initiative and are making a pledge to highlight the injustices of the death penalty in our coverage.