The Texas death runner seeks the shepherd’s touch on the execution

HOUSTON (AP) – Imprisoned Texas death runner supposed to be executed Wednesday for killing a convenience store worker more than 17 years ago in a robbery that earned $ 1.25 calls for his pastor to be allowed put his hands on him while he dies by lethal injection.

The petition of John Henry Ramirez, 37, is the latest clash between death row inmates and prison officials in Texas and other states by the presence of spiritual counselors in the death chamber.

Ramirez was convicted of the 2004 murder of 46-year-old Pablo Castro when he took out trash from a Corpus Christi convenience store. Prosecutors say Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times during a series of robberies in which the inmate and two women searched for money after a three-day drug attack. Ramirez fled to Mexico but was arrested 3 and a half years later. He is executed Wednesday evening at Huntsville State Prison.

Texas prison officials rejected Ramirez’s request for his spiritual adviser to touch him and vocalize the prayers when they were executed, arguing that direct contact poses a security risk and that prayer vocal can be disturbing.

A Houston federal judge and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have denied Ramirez’s request to suspend his execution on the issue. An appeal is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In April, the Texas prison system was reversed a two-year ban by allowing spiritual counselors into the death chamber. The ban came after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped execution in 2019 of another Texas inmate who had argued that his religious freedom was being violated because his Buddhist spiritual advisor did not have permission to 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.

Ramirez’s attorney Seth Kretzer has argued that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is violating the First Amendment prison rights of the death row inmate to practice his religion. 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.

Dana Moore, Ramirez’s spiritual advisor for the past four years, said the request is to let the inmate practice his Christian faith and treat him “with some dignity.”

“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 must be limitations based on issues. of security.

“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.

If Ramirez is executed, he would be the third inmate sentenced to death this year in Texas and the sixth in the United States

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70


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