Texas inmate fighting prayer touched on rules to be carried out

HOUSTON – A Texas death row inmate whose case highlighted the role of spiritual counselors in death chambers across the country is scheduled to be executed Wednesday despite efforts by a district attorney to stop his lethal injection.

John Henry Ramirez, 38, was sentenced to death for killing 46-year-old Pablo Castro, a grocery store worker, in 2004. Prosecutors said Castro was taking the trash out of the Corpus Christi store when Ramirez stole $1.25 from him and stabbed him 29 times.

Castro’s assassination took place during a series of robberies; Ramirez and two women stole money after a three-day drug spree. Ramirez fled to Mexico but was arrested three and a half years later.

Ramirez questioned state prison rules that prevented his pastor from touching him and praying aloud during his execution, and said his religious freedom was being violated. This challenge led to his execution to be late as well as executions of others.

In March the The US Supreme Court followed suit with Ramirez, say States have to adapt the wishes of death row inmates who want their faith leaders to pray and touch them during their executions.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously refused to commute Ramirez’s death sentence to a lesser sentence. According to his attorney, Ramirez has exhausted all available legal remedies and no final submission to the US Supreme Court is planned.

Lead prosecutor at Ramirez’s 2008 trial, Mark Skurka, said it was unfair that anyone would pray for Ramirez when he dies if Castro didn’t have the same opportunity.

“It’s been a long time coming, but despite the legal delays, Pablo Castro will likely finally get the justice his family has been seeking for so long,” said Skurka, who later served as Nueces County District Attorney before retiring.

Ramirez’s attorney, Seth Kretzer, said while he felt empathy for Castro’s family, his client’s challenge was about protecting religious freedom for all. Ramirez wasn’t asking for something new, but for something that has been part of jurisprudence throughout history, Kretzer said. He said even Nazi war criminals were provided with ministers before their execution after World War II.

“This was not a reflection on a favor we were doing for the Nazis,” Kretzer said. “The provision of religious administration at the time of death reflects the relative moral strength of the kidnappers.”

Kretzer said Ramirez’s spiritual advisor, Dana Moore, will also be able to keep a Bible in the death chamber, which wasn’t previously allowed.

Ramirez’s case took another turn in April when Mark Gonzalez, the current Nueces County District Attorney, was in charge asked a judge to withdraw the death sentence and postpone the execution, and said it was accidentally requested. Gonzalez said he thinks the death penalty is “unethical.”

During a nearly 20-minute Facebook Live video, Gonzalez said he believes the death penalty is one of the “many things that are wrong with our justice system.” Gonzalez said he will not seek the death penalty while he remains in office.

He did not respond to a call or email asking for comment.

Also in April, four of Castro’s children filed a petition to keep Ramirez’s death warrant.

“I want my father to finally have his justice and the peace to finally get on with my life and let this nightmare pass,” Fernando Castro, one of his sons, said in the motion.

In June, a judge denied Gonzalez’s request to overturn Wednesday’s execution date. Last month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to even consider the application.

If Ramirez is executed, he would be the third inmate to be executed in Texas this year and the 11th in the United States

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

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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/10/05/texas-inmate-who-fought-prayer-touch-rules-to-be-executed/ Texas inmate fighting prayer touched on rules to be carried out

Sarah Y. Kim

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