US

Texas Prosecutor Loses Attempt to Spare a Murderer From Execution

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday denied a motion to postpone the execution of a prisoner scheduled to be killed next month for the murder of a convenience store worker.

The rejection was the latest twist in the tumultuous case of John Henry Ramirez, who won notoriety when he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court — not to spare his life, but to allow his pastor to lay hands on him and pray in the execution chamber. Mr. Ramirez won that appeal, and his execution date was set for Oct. 5.

But then came a reversal unrelated to Mr. Ramirez’s religious freedom case: The district attorney of Nueces County, Mark Gonzalez, filed a motion withdrawing his office’s request for a death warrant, citing his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical.”

The withdrawal would most likely have postponed Mr. Ramirez’s execution until at least 2024, when Mr. Gonzalez’s term expires.

Mr. Gonzalez’s motion landed on the desk of Judge Bobby Galvan, who presided over Mr. Ramirez’s original trial and set his execution date. At a hearing in June, Judge Galvan denied Mr. Gonzalez’s request to withdraw the execution warrant, saying he did not believe he had that authority as a judge. Thursday’s decision from the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Judge Galvan’s ruling.

Mr. Gonzalez did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday evening.

Mr. Ramirez was convicted in 2008 of repeatedly stabbing a convenience store worker named Pablo Castro in the course of a robbery. Mr. Ramirez and two friends were driving around Corpus Christi looking for someone to rob for drug money when they encountered Mr. Castro, a father of nine. Prosecutors say the robbery netted them $1.25.

Mr. Ramirez’s guilt is not in question. He admitted to the murder at his trial.

Asked to submit any mitigating circumstances at his sentencing, he offered a Bible verse, Psalm 51:3: “For I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.”

Four of Mr. Castro’s children filed a brief this year asking the court to retain the October execution date and end “an ordeal that has denied peace and closure” to them for almost two decades.

In an interview in April, Fernando Castro, one of Mr. Castro’s sons, called the district attorney’s withdrawal “outrageous,” adding that frequent postponements and reversals had been painful for his family. “This isn’t something I want to keep thinking about,” he said.

Mr. Ramirez developed a relationship in prison with a Baptist pastor named Dana Moore and asked that Mr. Moore be allowed to pray out loud with him and touch him in the execution chamber. The state denied his request, citing security concerns. The case made it to the Supreme Court, which ruled, 8-1, in Mr. Ramirez’s favor in March.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that “there is a rich history of clerical prayer at the time of a prisoner’s execution, dating back well before the founding of our nation.”

Mr. Ramirez’s last option for avoiding execution is if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles grants him clemency. Mr. Ramirez’s lawyer, Seth Kretzer, said on Thursday that “the chances are not exactly good,” and that he was now preparing for Mr. Ramirez to receive a “constitutionally appropriate execution” that included his pastor next month.

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