Execution delayed for Texas prisoner who requested pastor lay hands on him

A Texas death row inmate won a reprieve from execution after claiming the state was violating his religious freedom by not letting his pastor lay hands on him at the time of his lethal injection.

John Henry Ramirez was condemned to death for fatally stabbing 46-year-old Pablo Castro, who worked at a Corpus Christi convenience store, に 2004.

The US supreme court blocked Ramirez’s execution about three hours after he could have been executed on Wednesday night. Ramirez was in a small holding cell a few feet from the death chamber at the Huntsville Unit prison.

“He was quiet when I let him know,” said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the テキサス Department of Criminal Justice. “He shook his head and said, ‘Thank you very much. God bless you.’”

In a brief order, the court directed its clerk to establish a schedule so Ramirez’s case could be argued in October or November.

Prosecutors say Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times during a series of robberies in which Ramirez and two women sought money following a three-day drug binge. Ramirez fled to Mexico but was arrested three and a half years later.

Seth Kretzer, Ramirez’s lawyer, argued Texas was violating his client’s first amendment rights to practice his religion by denying his request to have his pastor touch him and say prayers as he was executed.

“It is hostile toward religion, denying religious exercise at the precise moment it is most needed: when someone is transitioning from this life to the next,” Kretzer said in court documents.

Appeals courts rejected Ramirez’s argument.

The request by Ramirez, 37, is the latest clash between death row inmates and officials in Texas and other states over the presence of spiritual advisers in the death chamber.

The supreme court has granted stays in several executions in Texas and Alabama. The only execution stays the court has granted in recent years have been related to issues of religious practice or discrimination.

4月中, Texas reversed a two-year ban on allowing spiritual advisers in the death chamber. The ban came after the supreme court in 2019 halted the execution of a Texas inmate who argued his religious freedom was violated because his Buddhist spiritual adviser wasn’t allowed to accompany him. That inmate, Patrick Murphy, remains on death row.

Texas previously allowed state-employed clergy to accompany inmates into the chamber, but prison staff included only Christian and Muslim clerics. The new policy allows an inmate’s approved spiritual adviser to be in the chamber, but the two cannot have contact and vocal prayers are not allowed.

Texas prison officials say direct contact poses a security risk and prayer could be disruptive. Aside from some officials, an inmate’s final statement and a doctor who announces time of death, no one else usually speaks during an execution.

Dana Moore, Ramirez’s spiritual adviser, said the request to let him touch Ramirez was about letting the inmate practice his faith and treating him “with a certain amount of dignity”.

Moore and Kretzer say the laying of hands is a symbolic act in which religious leaders offer comfort during prayer or confer a blessing at the moment of death.

“John’s sentence wasn’t death and you can’t have any meaningful contact,” said Moore, pastor at Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. “He is paying for his crime. I guess the question that would come up [だろう], ‘Is that not enough?’”

Mark Skurka, lead prosecutor at Ramirez’s trial in 2008, said a death row inmate should have a spiritual adviser at the time of execution but there should be limitations.

“Pablo Castro didn’t get to have somebody praying over him as this guy stabbed him 29 タイムズ," 彼は言った. “Pablo Castro didn’t get afforded such niceties and things like to have a clergyman present.”

Castro had nine children and had worked at the convenience store for more than a decade.

“He was a good guy,” Skurka said. “He would help people out in the neighborhood. Everybody liked him.”

Two women who took part in the robberies were convicted on lesser charges.

Six more executions are scheduled this year in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state.