2016-06-30
Update: March 15 (RNS) California has executed a convicted killer whose request to perform a religious last rite at a sweat lodge on prison grounds was rejected by a district court judge March 13.

Darrell Rich, 45, died early Wednesday, March 15. He had been convicted of murdering three women and killing an 11-year-old girl by hurling her more than 100 feet from a bridge in the late 1970s, the Associated Press reported.

March 14 (RNS) -- Lawyers for a man on California's death row appealed a federal judge's decision to deny his request to perform a religious last rite at a Native American sweat lodge on prison grounds.

Darrell Rich, who is part Cherokee, wanted to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony because it was "critical for making amends and preparing to meet my Maker, my ancestors, and those person I have harmed during my time on Earth," he said.

"It's a simple proposition," said his lawyer, James Thomason. "It really is a matter of whether or not you can let this man go to church before he is executed."

But state officials said they are concerned about safety during the sweat lodge ceremony, in which fire-heated rocks are doused with water as participants pray. The ceremony is supposed to purify the spirit.

Becauses Rich might be unrestrained and would have access to a shovel and a rake during the ceremony, granting his request would be "a formula for disaster," said Dannette Valdez, a deputy attorney general.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker agreed the safety concerns of prison officials were valid, and concluded Rich was treated as well as any inmate of another faith.

Rich's request for clemency from California Gov. Gray Davis was rejected on Friday, March 10.

more from beliefnet and our partners