Seth Kretzer, Ramirez’s attorney, had argued that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice violated the rights of the First Amendment of the death row inmate prison to practice his religion by denying his request for his pastor to touch him. and vocalize the sentences when he was executed. He described the prohibition of vocal prayer as a spiritual “order of gags.”
“He is hostile to religion, denying religious exercise at the precise moment he needs most: when someone moves from one life to the next,” Kretzer said in court documents.
The lower courts of appeal had rejected Ramirez’s argument.
Ramirez’s 37-year-old request is the latest clash between death row inmates and prison officials in Texas and other states over the presence of spiritual advisers in the death chamber.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has granted stays to stop several executions in Texas and Alabama for the presence of clergy or spiritual advisers in the death chamber. The only execution the Supreme Court has granted in recent years has been related to issues of religious practice or discrimination.
In April, the Texas prison system reversed a two-year ban on allowing spiritual counselors into the death chamber. The ban came after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 stopped the execution of another Texas inmate who had argued that his religious freedom was being violated because his Buddhist spiritual advisor could not accompany him.
Texas previously allowed state-employed clergy to accompany inmates to the chamber, but prison staff only included Christian and Muslim clergy. The new policy allows an approved inmate’s approved spiritual advisor to be in the room, but the two cannot have any contact and vocal prayers are not allowed during the execution.
Texas prison officials say direct contact poses a security risk and that vocal prayer can be disruptive and would go against maintaining an orderly process. Aside from some prison officials, the final statement from an inmate and a doctor announcing the time of death, no one else usually speaks formally during an execution.
Dana Moore, Ramirez’s spiritual advisor for the past four years, said the request to let him touch Ramirez was to let the inmate practice his Christian faith and treat him “with a certain dignity.”
Moore and Kretzer say that the laying on of hands is a symbolic act in which religious leaders lay their hands on someone to offer comfort during prayer or to confer a spiritual blessing at the time of someone’s death.
“John’s sentence was not death and no significant contact can be made,” said Moore, who is pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Corpus Christi. “He is paying for his crime. I guess the question that would arise, is not enough? “
But Mark Skurka, the chief prosecutor in Ramírez’s 2008 trial, said that while he believes a prison inmate should have a spiritual advisor at the time of execution, there should be limitations based on security issues.
“Pablo Castro did not get anyone to pray for him, as this boy stabbed him 29 times. Pablo Castro was not allowed these sympathies and things like having a clergyman present, ”said Skurka, who has already retired after serving as district attorney for Nueces County.
Castro, who had nine children, had been working in the convenience store for more than a decade when he was murdered.
“It simply came to our notice then. It would help the people in the neighborhood. Everyone liked it, ”Skurka said.
Two women who participated in the robberies and were convicted of fewer charges remain in jail.
Six more executions are scheduled for later this year in Texas, the country’s busiest death penalty state.