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DA wants to stop execution of a Texas death row inmate whose case made it to the Supreme Court

Jacquelyn Martin

The execution of Texas death row inmate John Henry Ramirez may once again be halted.

Last September, the U.S. Supreme Court delayed the 37-year-old’s execution to consider his claim that Texas was violating his religious rights by refusing to let his pastor pray over and touch him while he received a lethal injection. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice only allows a spiritual advisor inside the death chamber if they don’t speak or touch the inmate.

However, in March, the nation’s high court sided with Ramirez. In their8-1 opinion, the justices ruled Texas likely violated Ramirez's rights when it denied his request. While TDCJ does not plan to change its overall policy, a spokesperson for the agency said requests for spiritual advisors to pray or touch the inmate will now be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Less than a month after the Supreme Court’s decision, a South Texas judge rescheduled Ramirez’s execution for Oct. 5. But now, theNueces County district attorney has filed a motion to withdraw the rescheduled execution date for Ramirez, even though his office had initially requested it last week.

In the motion filed Thursday, DA Mark Gonzalez said a prosecutor in his office had requested the new date without his knowledge.

“The Assistant District Attorney who most recently moved for an execution date in this cause was not aware of my desire in this matter and did not consult me prior to moving for an execution date,” Gonzalez said in the motion.

Earlier this year, Gonzalez was among three district attorneys in Texas to sign onto ajoint statement with more than 50 elected prosecutors nationwide to call for “the elimination of the death penalty.”

“So, [Gonzalez’s] actions [to withdraw the order] are consistent with the position he has publicly taken,” said Kristin Houlé Cuellar, the executive director of theTexas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Houlé Cuellar told the Texas Newsroom that she was “very heartened” by Gonzalez’s motion.

“In his motion to withdraw the order, he states that it is his ‘firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person’ while he occupies this office,” she read, quoting the motion. “And I am very pleased with that.”

Houlé Cuellar said if the court does not approve Gonzalez’s motion, the October date would be the fourth execution date that has been set for Ramirez since 2017.

“I have every confidence, though, that this date will be withdrawn,” she added. “In my experience, when a prosecutor asks for a date to be withdrawn, it is granted.”

Ramirez was sentenced to die for the 2004 murder of Pablo Castro, who was a store clerk in Corpus Christi.

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Sascha Cordner | The Texas Newsroom