Texas Executes John Henry Ramirez, Who Won Supreme Court Religious Rights Case


As the lethal injection coursed through John Henry Ramirez’s veins on 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 sea-foam green walls and stretcher with restraints.

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

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

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

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Ramirez was convicted of the 2004 murder of Castro, 45, in Corpus Christi, Texas. Ramirez stabbed the convenience store clerk 29 times. He was 20 when 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 arrested in 2008 and sentenced to death.

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

Ramirez was due to be executed on September 8, 2021, and requested that Moore be there to pray and lay hands on him. However, Texas officials said Moore could be present during the execution but could not touch the inmate.

Ramirez’s religious rights case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, and as he waited in a detention room on the night of his scheduled execution in 2021, judges halted the proceedings. About six months later, the court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Ramirez and his request to have his pastor’s hands on him during his execution.

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 don’t see how letting the spiritual advisor stand slightly closer, reach out and touch a part of the prisoner’s body well away from the site of any IV line would significantly increase risk,” Roberts wrote.

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

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

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

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After the court sided with Ramirez, his execution date was set for October 5. Next, an employee of the Nueces County Attorney’s Office, Mark Gonzalez mistakenly filed a request for a new execution date.

According to court records, the staffer had not consulted 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 he had the authority” to withdraw it – marking the first time such a request had been denied by a judge, said Ramirez’s lawyer Seth Kretzer at the Post.

In a final attempt, Gonzalez and Kretzer filed a motion last week to withdraw the warrant. It was refused. 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 went to trial today, Ramirez “in most places would not be prosecuted,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that provides information and analysis. on issues relating to the death penalty.

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

It’s “really the convergence of all these arbitrary and discriminatory factors in the imposition of the death penalty,” Dunham added. “His case is emblematic because, statistically, 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 hike. Once there, he remained in a holding cell until 6 p.m., when he was taken to the execution chamber, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst said. .

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

“Peace, 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 impact statement. “He receives his true judgment with our Lord and Saviour. … A life taken away is not to be celebrated, but closure can certainly take place.

Afterward, Ramirez said he regretted his “heinous act”, adding that he hoped his death would bring comfort to Castro’s family.

“Just know that I put up a good fight and I’m ready to go. I’m ready, Warden,” hence his final words.

Moore’s hands touched his chest until he was pronounced dead, officials said.

Robert Barnes contributed to this report.


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