Monday, March 27

Texas executes John Henry Ramirez, who won religious-rights Supreme Court case

As the lethal drug coursed through John Henry Ramirez’s veins Wednesday night, Pastor Dana Moore laid his hands on the Texas death row inmate’s chest. A prayer rang out as Ramirez was executed in Huntsville in a small room known as the death chamber, with its seafoam-green walls and gurney with restraints.

It was the conclusion of a 2004 murder case that drew national attention after the Supreme Court ruled in March that Ramirez’s pastor could touch him and pray during the execution. Ramirez, who said he experienced a spiritual transformation while on death row, had requested that Moore “feel my heart and feel when I transition,” he told The Washington Post in 2021.

On Wednesday, Ramirez’s request was granted. Before he died at 6:41 pm, Ramirez told the family of Pablo Castro, the father of nine he stabbed to death nearly two decades ago, that he appreciated his attempts to communicate with him.

“I tried to reply back, but there is nothing that I could have said or done that would have helped you,” Ramirez said, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Supreme Court considers a minister’s role at the time an inmate is put to death

Ramirez was convicted of the 2004 killing of Castro, 45, in Corpus Christi, Tex. Ramirez was 20 years old when he stabbed the convenience store clerk 29 times. He left Castro to die in a parking lot, fleeing the scene with $1.25 in change. He evaded arrest by escaping to Mexico, until he was caught in 2008 and sentenced to death.

It was while on death row that Ramirez met Moore and other Second Baptist Church members. He became a member of the church, despite being a Messianic Jew, The Post reported.

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Ramirez was scheduled to be executed on Sept. 8, 2021, and he requested that Moore be there to pray and lay his hands on him. Texas officials said, however, that Moore could be present during the execution but could not touch the inmate.

Ramirez’s case for religious rights ultimately made its way to the US Supreme Court, and as he waited in a holding room the night of his planned 2021 execution, the justices stopped the procedure. About six months later, the court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Ramirez and his request from him to have his pastor’s hands on him as he was executed.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said Ramirez’s religious rights were protected by federal law. Texas, he added, should be able to accommodate the inmate’s request. If the pastor is allowed to be in the room, “we do not see how letting the spiritual advisor stand slightly closer, reach out his arm from him, and touch a part of the prisoner’s body well away from the site of any IV line would meaningfully increase risk,” Roberts wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the only dissenter, said Ramirez appeared to be trying to delay his execution.

Castro’s family agreed, writing in an amicus brief to the court that “Pablo Castro’s children — and victims of violent crime across the Nation — deserve better.”

“The suffering of Castro’s family has been needlessly exacerbated by nearly decades of undue delays and manipulative, whipsaw litigation tactics,” they wrote.

Supreme Court says death row inmate entitled to pastor’s touch at execution

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After the court sided with Ramirez, his execution date was set for Oct. 5. Then an employee in the office of Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez mistakenly filed a request for a new execution date.

According to court records, the staffer hadn’t consulted with Gonzalez, who opposes the death penalty, before doing so. Gonzalez then submitted a request two days later to withdraw the death warrant. In June, a judge said he was “not sure that I have the power” to take it back — marking the first time that such a motion had been denied by a judge, Ramirez attorney Seth Kretzer told The Post.

In a last attempt, Gonzalez and Kretzer filed a motion last week to withdraw the warrant. It was denied. On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against commuting the execution.

All possible legal options to save Ramirez from execution had been exhausted.

If his case was tried today, Ramirez “in most places would not be capitally prosecuted,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that provides information and analysis on death penalty issues.

However, Dunham said several factors could have made Ramirez’s execution more likely, including his age and ethnicity.

It is “truly the convergence of all these arbitrary and discriminatory factors in imposing death penalties,” Dunham added. “His case of him is emblematic because, statistically, all the odds were stacked against him.”

On Wednesday morning, the 38-year-old was transported from the Polunsky Unit in Livingston to the Huntsville Unit — a 44-mile trek. Once there, he stayed in a holding cell until 6 pm, when he was walked to the execution chamber, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst said.

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Eleven witnesses — five for the victim and six for Ramirez — watched through a window to see the inmate take his last breaths, Hurst said. Castro’s son, Aaron, read a Bible verse that asks, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance from him?”

“Peace and love and justice for Pablo G. Castro, may his name not be forgotten, and may God have mercy on John Henry Ramirez for it is not up to us,” Castro said in his victim statement. “He is receiving his true judgment with our Lord and Savior. … A life taken away is not to be celebrated but closure can definitely take place.”

In the death chamber, Ramirez said he regretted his “heinous act,” adding that he hoped his death would provide some comfort to Castro’s family.

“Just know that I fought a good fight, and I am ready to go. I am ready, Warden, ”where his last words from him.

Moore’s hands touched Ramirez’s chest until the inmate was declared dead, officials said.

Robert Barnes contributed to this report.

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