Civil Rights

Inmate Convicted in Courthouse Slayings Sues, Says Ohio Won't Provide Halal Meals to Muslims

An inmate on death row for murdering his estranged wife and brother-in-law in an Ohio domestic relations courtroom is pursuing a federal civil rights suit over the state prison system’s alleged refusal to provide halal meals to Muslims.

Although the state does accommodate dietary restrictions of Muslims by offering no-pork and vegetarian-only meals, that is not the same, plaintiff Abdul Awkal, 52, points out in a filing, as preparing meals in accordance with the dietary law of his religion, the Associated Press reports. For instance, meat must be from animals slaughtered in a prescribed manner to qualify as halal.

Awkal also argues that the Ohio prison system provides kosher meals prepared in accord with religious dietary laws to Jews.

“The issue of eating halal meals is especially important to me because I face a death sentence,” he wrote in a filing earlier this year. “It is important to me that I follow the requirements of my faith as I approach death.”

Inmate Cornelius Causey, 35, joined Awkal in the suit.

Awkal was convicted of killing his estranged wife and her brother in 1992 at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland as they were awaiting a meeting in the family conciliation services office of Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court, according to Fox 8 News and the Plain Dealer.

He reportedly pointed a gun at himself and the couple’s then-15-month-old daughter before he was shot in the back by a sheriff’s deputy and arrested in the courthouse basement. He asserted an insanity defense at trial, but it was undercut by the testimony of a defense expert witness who said he was sane.

A federal district court rejected his habeas petition, in which Awkal alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. Although a federal appeals court reversed, that ruling was subsequently overturned by the full Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an en banc decision last year, an earlier Associated Press article reports.

The 6th Circuit opinion (PDF) last year provides additional details of the crime. Awkal’s relationship with his wife and her family was strained, the opinion says, by disagreements about how they should practice their religious faith.

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