Death row inmate in Alabama asks state not to perform an autopsy on his body after execution, citing his Muslim faith
Death row inmate in Alabama asks state not to perform an autopsy on his body after execution, citing his Muslim faith

By Emma Tucker and Rebekah Riess, CNN

(CNN) — An Alabama death row inmate scheduled to be executed by lethal injection next week has asked the state not to perform an autopsy on his body after his execution because it would conflict with his religious beliefs as a practicing Muslim, a lawsuit says.

Keith Gavin, whose execution is scheduled for next Thursday or Friday, said his body would undergo an “invasive autopsy” that would violate both his “sincerely held religious beliefs” and Alabama state law, according to the lawsuit filed last month by his lawyers.

Those named as defendants in the lawsuit include 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 on death row.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting 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 lawsuit says, and his religion “teaches that the human body is a sacred temple that must be preserved intact.” An autopsy, he says, would desecrate his body and “violate the sanctity of the integrity of his human body” as well as his right to freedom of religion.

The lawsuit alleges that Gavin’s attorneys repeatedly tried to reach state officials in charge of the autopsy regarding his request that his “remains be treated in accordance with his faith” but received no response.

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

Alabama law requires a medical examiner to investigate every death that occurs in a state correctional facility, and state officials have the authority to order an autopsy if the death is “unlawful, suspicious, or unnatural.”

“This law is intended to establish with certainty the cause of death in each such case. After Mr. Gavin is executed, 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 states.

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

Alabama is under scrutiny for its executions after several botched lethal injections in 2022 prompted an internal review of the state’s death penalty system.

Ivey called on the state Department of Corrections to conduct a “thorough review of the state’s execution process” after the problems became nationally known, CNN previously reported. The state resumed executions last spring after the review was completed.

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