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September 17, 2021

Second Texas inmate gets execution stay based on religion claim SCOTUS considering in Ramirez

As reported in this post, the Supreme Court last week stayed the execution of John Ramirez and granted certiorari to consider Ramirez’s request that his pastor be allowed to physically touch him and audibly pray in the execution chamber while Ramirez is put to death by the state of Texas.  In this follow-up post, titled "A short de facto execution moratorium?: could other condemned inmates secure a stay until SCOTUS decides new Ramirez case on religious liberty?", I wondered aloud if the SCOTUS cert grant in Ramirez could produce a short de facto execution moratorium based on other death row inmates making a religious liberty claim like Ramirez’s request.

This new AP piece, headlined "Judge delays another Texas execution over religious freedom claims," reports that at least one other Texas inmate has secured an execution stay on the basis of Ramirez.  Here are the details:

Another Texas inmate has had his execution delayed over claims the state is violating his religious freedom by not letting his spiritual adviser lay hands on him at the time of his lethal injection.

Ruben Gutierrez was set to be executed on Oct. 27 for fatally stabbing an 85-year-old Brownsville woman in 1998.  But a judge on Wednesday granted a request by the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office to vacate the execution date. Prosecutors said the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming review of similar religious freedom issues made by another inmate, John Henry Ramirez, whose execution the high court delayed last week, will impact Gutierrez’s case.

“As the Ramirez matter may be dispositive of any issue related to Gutierrez’s religious liberty claim, it is in the best interest of the state, the family of the victim of Gutierrez’s crimes, that his execution be delayed,” prosecutors said in a motion filed Tuesday.

Gutierrez was previously an hour away from execution in June 2020 when the Supreme Court granted him a stay because his spiritual adviser was not allowed to accompany him in the death chamber.

Last month, Gutierrez’s attorneys filed a complaint in federal court alleging the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was violating his right to practice his religion by denying his request to have his priest touch his shoulder, pray out loud and perform last rites when he was executed.

Gutierrez, 44, said that these three things need to be done “to ensure my path to the afterlife,” according to his complaint.  His attorneys cited the Constitution’s First Amendment and a federal statute that protects an inmate’s religious rights. Ramirez made similar claims when he was granted a stay.

The Supreme Court has dealt with the presence of spiritual advisers in the death chamber in recent years but has not made a definitive ruling on the issue.  That could change after it hears oral arguments in Ramirez’s case on Nov. 1.

Prior related posts:

September 17, 2021 at 12:11 AM | Permalink


Since the Supreme Court already held up his execution in the past to put the state to the test regarding religious liberty concerns, this isn't too surprising.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 17, 2021 8:12:08 AM

Agreed, Joe, but I continue to wonder whether the two other executions scheduled in Texas over the next few weeks will go forward. I now particularly wonder if other local Texas DAs were urging the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office to make the motion to vacate the execution date in order to signal to state judges that state actors would respect a "Ramirez claim" in some settings, but not others.

Posted by: Douglas A Berman | Sep 17, 2021 10:14:16 AM

We will see.

A major debate, including in the Supreme Court, here is when the claims are made. As with the case taken, this guy's claims overall aren't new. If someone all the sudden had a religious claim, it might be seen as feigned and/or procedurally problematic.

But, especially with an accelerated schedule, it would seem sensible for the states to postpone executions until after the case is decided. The case might clarify somewhat other possible claims that can arise. And, Texas already got in trouble for seeming to discriminate. Plus, this is clearly one issue for which there is cross-ideological concern on the Supreme Court to address.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 17, 2021 11:23:34 AM

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