Kentucky – Death Row Inmate Loses Lawsuit Over Shabbath


    William Harry MeeceKentucky – 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.

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    10 years ago

    I think we should demonstrate like we did by Grossman with the Aguda and the OU taking the lead.

    10 years ago

    A toilet that is flushed and clean could be classified by the gomora in Mesichta Bruchas as “c’chadita domei” (equivilent to new) and ok pray near.

    10 years ago

    Every human being has a right to pray as they want & not have to suffer going to a Ronan Catholic church. And why is it that Roman Catholics & Proteatant are allowed to pray as they wish? He murdered someone true, but God gets to choose if he’s guilty & how much so, not us. Therefore we have no right to take away his basics rights ie of that to pray.

    10 years ago

    would someone kill their parents and brother over money and why isn’t she on death row too?

    10 years ago

    At the risk of offending the groups that cater to Jewish prisoners, the silent majority of Yidden have no sympathy for any Jew that killed a wonderful innocent family of 3. This bastard should rot in hell soon!

    10 years ago

    His bein adom l’Makom is very good, but his bein ado l’chaveiro is lacking. I do not feel sorry for him not being able to pray outside his cell. When my wife gave birth (multiple times) I could not bring myself to pray in the hospital’s multi-religious chapel. Even though there was a magen Dovid on one wall, there was a tselem on another wall, and the benches had pull down kneeling benches on the chair backs (something shuls might consider for Yom Kippur (and hopefully reject)).

    One interesting thing is that the events took place in 2003 and police were without clues for a decade. That means it was only a short time between when he was charged and when he ended up on death row. He pleaded not guilty. What happened to years of appeals?

    It appears the only evidence against him is that he spoke with someone about it. For all the police know, he could have turned down the job. All they have is someone’s word that he talked about being offered the job. Perhaps he needs a new lawyer.

    10 years ago

    What a Tzadik! Murders 3 people and then wants to go to shul. In the “good old days” a Beth Din would either have executed him or locked him up without food or water… and without a Minyan either.

    10 years ago

    First off before u come and say he is not guilty etc maybe read the court papers they are accusing him of murdering 3 people he would not get death row unless they were certain he did this and no such a person should not get any recognition. I believe all that was done by grossman was wrong.

    10 years ago

    First off before u come and say he is not guilty etc maybe read the court papers they are accusing him of murdering 3 people he would not get death row unless they were certain he did this and no such a person should not get any recognition. I believe all that was done by grossman was wrong.

    10 years ago

    Since I know nothing about this man/case/ or circumstances of the crimes I can only go by what a jury of his peers judged him to be… guilty. Personally, I don’t think anyone who is convicted of murdering another human being deserves to complain about THEIR RIGHTS regardless of who they are!

    10 years ago

    He says he is Jewish. I don’t think he is because his name doesn’t sound Jewish.

    10 years ago

    I read up on the case, my advice to him forget shabbos start studing vidduy