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October 8, 2021

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

As reported in this post, the Supreme Court last month stayed the execution of John Ramirez and granted certiorari to consider Ramirez’s request that his pastor be allowed to physically touch him and pray aloud 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 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.

Since those posts, as noted here, Texas has been able to complete one execution; but, as noted here, another Texas inmate was able to secure an execution stay based on religion claim SCOTUS is considering in Ramirez.  And, as detailed in this new local article, headlined "Man on death row for killing pregnant Wichita Falls woman gets stay of execution," it appears another scheduled Texas execution was been delayed:

A death row prisoner convicted of murdering a pregnant Wichita Falls woman and her 7-year-old son more than 16 years ago will not be executed next week.

54-year-old Stephen Barbee was set to die next Tuesday, October 12. However, a federal court Thursday, October 7, stayed the execution after Barbee’s request that his pastor be able to touch and pray aloud with him in the death chamber had been rejected by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Barbee is on death row for the suffocation deaths of 34-year-old Lisa Underwood and her son Jayden in their Fort Worth home in February, 2005.... Prosecutors said Barbee killed Underwood because he thought he was the father of Underwood’s unborn son, and he was afraid she would tell his wife.

Prior related posts:

October 8, 2021 at 09:42 AM | Permalink


I looked and see that the state made the argument that the claim was made too late but the judge dealt with that matter.

I think with SCOTUS oral argument pending in a month or so, it would make sense to hold an execution since it is likely the Supreme Court (especially this one) will decide the matter quickly. One can read the opinion to see how the judge specifically answered the question.

We had the to me absurdity (on some level) of an execution in the Glossip state before the case was decided. The Supreme Court ultimately (by a strongly divided vote) decided the state's procedure was appropriate.

But, there was clearly a shroud over the procedure (the state itself held up executions to study it), and executing someone first and then deciding the question comes off as improper. This is so even if you can cite cases where something somewhat similar happened.

It is not clear why this is the first person who cited this wish for final request after the Ramirez case was granted, which holds up the execution (at least for now) scheduled next week. Perhaps, the others did not wish for that sort of religious exercise (though someone might cynically suggest this is but a delay tactic).

Finally, I again recognize -- like an amicus brief I cited in a previous comment -- there is something silly about focusing on this narrow question above wider problems with the death penalty. But, religious liberty claims are important, and in this Court something realistically open to winning.

And, to give them credit, conservatives on the Supreme Court are consistent to some degree on religious claims -- Alito, e.g., wrote an opinion protecting Muslim prisoners to have beards.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 8, 2021 4:04:45 PM

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