Posted on Sep 27, 2022
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) has denied a stay of execution to a Texas man facing an October 5, 2022 execution date that was scheduled as a result of a death-warrant motion the local district attorney says was against his office policy and “unethical.”
In a September 22 order issued without opinion, the TCCA rejected an effort by John Henry Ramirez and Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez to withdraw the death warrant issued by 94th Judicial District Court Judge Bobby Galvan in April 2022. The decision does not affirm, but allows to stand, Galvan’s order refusing to vacate Ramirez’s execution date.
Ramirez was sentenced to death in 2008 for the 2004 robbery-murder of Pablo Castro, a convenience store clerk.
Gonzalez, a former defense attorney who was elected in 2016 on a platform of criminal justice reform, faced criticism after his office obtained a death warrant for Ramirez. On April 14, 2022, two days after Galvan granted county prosecutors’ motion to set an execution date, Gonzalez attempted to withdraw the warrant.
Stopping just short of calling the motion unauthorized, Gonzalez told the court, “The Assistant District Attorney who most recently moved for an execution date in this cause was not aware of my desire in this matter and did not consult me prior to moving for an execution date.” “The undersigned District Attorney for Nueces County has the firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person while the undersigned occupies the office in question,” he wrote.
Speaking more directly, Ramirez told the Corpus Christi Caller Times “I’ve been open about not wanting to seek the death penalty, and I think it’d be hypocritical of me as a person not wanting to seek the death penalty and then setting a date of execution for someone, for it to be carried out.”
On April 26, 2022, while the withdrawal motion was pending, four of Castro’s nine children filed an amicus brief asking for the execution to go forward. On May 20, 2022, the Texas Attorney General’s office submitted a letter in opposition, asserting that Gonzalez’s “shifting ethical position” did not provide grounds to withdraw the death warrant. Edward Marshall, chief of the attorney general’s Criminal Appeals Division, argued that once the death warrant had been issued, the District Court did not have the authority to withdraw it.
Marshall’s representation flew in the face of the views expressed by dozens of Texas legislators and Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz during April 14, 2022 legislative hearings relating to the scheduled execution of Melissa Lucio. During those hearings, described by reporters as “heated,” legislators pressed Saenz to withdraw Lucio’s death warrant citing evidence of probable innocence and police misconduct. Saenz agreed with the legislators that he had the power to withdraw the warrant and eventually agreed that he would do so if the TCCA did not issue a stay. The point became moot when the court halted Lucio’s execution.
Galvan denied Gonzalez’s motion on June 21, saying “I’m not sure that I have the power to do so.” However, after the hearing, Ramirez’s lawyer, Seth Kretzer, told Associated Press at the time, “It is unprecedented for an unopposed/joint motion to withdraw a death warrant to be denied.” Kretzer refused to criticize Gonzalez for the issuance of the warrant, telling CNHI News, “While perhaps D.A. Gonzalez should have more quickly informed his staff as to his position, a new day is dawning in America where elected district attorneys will stand up to execution errors extrapolated from a prior generation.”
Ramirez’s case attracted national attention in 2021 when Texas denied his request to have his pastor audibly pray and lay hands on him during his execution. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed his execution in September 2021 to review his claims that Texas’ refusal violated his rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act to free exercise of religion. The Court ruled in his favor on March 24, 2022.
Kretzer told The New York Times that he was preparing for Mr. Ramirez to receive a “constitutionally appropriate execution” on October 5.
Ruth Graham, Texas Prosecutor Loses Attempt to Spare a Murderer From Execution, New York Times, September 22, 2022; Ali Linan, Texas death row inmate files for stay of execution, CNHI News, September 20, 2022; Ali Linan, Texas death row inmate’s request for stay of execution denied, CNHI News, September 24, 2022; Juan Lozano, Judge keeps execution for inmate who sought pastor’s touch, Associated Press News, June 21, 2022; Kailey E. Hunt, Pablo Castro’s children file amicus brief in John Henry Ramirez execution case, Caller Times, May 5, 2022; Jolie McCullough, Facing harsh criticism in the Melissa Lucio case, Texas prosecutor may temporarily spare the woman many believe is innocent, Texas Tribune, April 12, 2022.
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