Death Watch: Supreme Court stops execution of John Henry Ramirez over religious freedom appeal

John Henry Ramirez was ready to be put to death on September 8 for the murder of a Corpus Christi convenience store clerk Pablo Castro in 2004. The parish priest of Ramirez Dana moore and members of his family – as well as Castro’s children – gathered at the Huntsville Unit north of Houston, while waiting for the 37-year-old to be taken to the state execution chamber at 6 p.m. At the time, however, the Supreme Court of the United States was still considering Ramirez’s appeal that prison authorities denied him the right to free exercise of religion by refusing to let Moore touch him and pray with him as he died from a lethal injection. It wasn’t until 9 p.m. that the news broke: the court suspended Ramirez’s execution and scheduled oral pleadings in his case for November 1.

Central to these arguments is an inmate’s right to spiritual counselor at the time of execution, particularly the extent of help counselors can and cannot administer. “This may be the fastest case in Supreme Court history because the issue is of national importance,” Ramirez’s lawyer said. Seth kretzer, noting that the October 27 execution of a Texas inmate Ruben Gutierrez was arrested for similar religious freedom issues. “SCOTUS must tell federal trial courts what the rules of the road are.”

The TDCJ decided that Spiritual Advisors could enter the room but that they would not be allowed to stand quietly in a corner – like a potted plant, as Seth Kretzer describes.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justicethe policy on spiritual counselors’ access to the execution chamber has fluctuated as inmates have filed religious freedom appeals in recent years. The department’s long-standing policy was to allow counselors inside the chamber as long as they were the TDCJ’s own chaplains – all but one were Christians. In 2019, the TDCJ excluded spiritual advisers of all faiths from the chamber after the Supreme Court suspended the execution of a Texas death row inmate whose request for a Buddhist spiritual advisor was rejected by prison authorities. . Then, in a sharp turnaround in April, the TDCJ ruled that the spiritual advisers chosen by the prisoners and controlled by the state could enter the chamber, but they would only be allowed to stand silently in a corner – like a plant. pot, as Kretzer describes.

Ramirez requests that his pastor be allowed to lay his hands on him and pray aloud as he dies. TDCJ argued that such actions pose a security risk – how, that’s not saying. But earlier this month, the District Judge David hittner ruled in favor of the department, writing that it had a compelling interest in maintaining “orderly, safe and efficient” executions.

Kretzer appealed, calling Hittner’s decision a “spiritual gag order” and asking how a pastor praying aloud can compromise security, given that counselors are subject to background checks and carefully vetted before they go. ” be admitted to the prison. The Attorney General’s Office, representing TDCJ, appeared to characterize the ministry’s policy as being more about convenience than security. “Where a Protestant may ask his pastor’s hands on him as he passes, a Muslim may prefer that his body be washed and wrapped immediately after his death, and a Buddhist that his body not be touched for seven days afterwards. his death “, wrote Assistant AG Jennifer wren morris.

“You have to ask politely, what about? Kretzer responded in a later dossier. “Washing and wrapping a body and not touching a body for a respectful period does not seem unduly painful.” – Brant Bingamon

A version of this article appeared in print on September 24, 2021 with the title: Death Watch: last minute reprieve for John Henry Ramirez

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