Skip to Content

Alabama grants Muslim death row inmate’s wish to forgo autopsy after execution

By Emma Tucker and Rebekah Riess, CNN

(CNN) — Alabama will forgo an autopsy on a Muslim death row inmate who sued the state, saying the procedure following his execution by lethal injection next week would violate his religious beliefs.

Keith Gavin, who is set to be executed next Thursday or Friday, said in the lawsuit an “invasive autopsy” violated his “sincerely held religious beliefs,” as well as Alabama state law, according to the complaint filed by his attorneys last month.

Gavin is a devout Muslim, the complaint said, and his religion “teaches that the human body is a sacred temple, which must be kept whole.” An autopsy, he argued, would desecrate his body and “violate the sanctity of keeping his human body intact” along with his right to the free exercise of his religion.

On Friday, Alabama Department of Corrections spokesperson Kelly Windham Betts told CNN: “No autopsy will be performed on Keith Edmund Gavin. His remains will be picked up by the attending funeral home.”

CNN has reached out to Gavin’s attorneys for comment.

Among those named in the lawsuit were 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.

“We are working on a resolution,” the office of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall told CNN this week.

The complaint had sought a judicial order preventing the defendants from performing the autopsy and requiring them “to respect Mr. Gavin’s constitutional rights and sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The lawsuit claimed Gavin’s attorneys had repeatedly attempted to reach state officials in charge of the autopsy process regarding his request for his “earthly remains to be handled consistent with his faith,” but had received no response.

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

Under Alabama law, a medical examiner is required to investigate any death that takes place in any penal institution in the state, and the law gives discretion to state officials to order a postmortem autopsy if the death is “unlawful, suspicious or unnatural.”

“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,” the lawsuit argued.

On Thursday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations – the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the country – called on Alabama officials to accept Gavin’s request.

“In Islamic beliefs, autopsies are generally viewed as impermissible mutilation of the deceased but are permissible in cases of necessity and only to the extent required,” CAIR said in a statement.

“The religious freedom guaranteed to every American in our founding documents does not cease to apply behind bars,” CAIR Research and Advocacy Director Corey Saylor said. “We urge Alabama state officials to accept Mr. Gavin’s request that his body not be autopsied after execution.”

Alabama has faced scrutiny over its executions after multiple failed lethal injections prompted an internal review of the state’s capital punishment system in 2022.

Ivey asked the state Department of Corrections to conduct a “top-to-bottom review of the state’s execution process” after the problems came into the national spotlight, CNN previously reported. The state resumed executions last spring after the review was completed.

CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN – National

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

CNN Newsource


News Channel 3-12 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content