Late Friday night, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas’s stay of execution of Ruben Gutierrez, who seeks DNA testing of evidence pointing to his innocence. Gutierrez also is challenging Texas’s denial of a Christian chaplain’s presence during his execution, which is scheduled for Tuesday, June 16, 2020. Earlier in the day, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) filed an amicus brief supporting his request for access to clergy in the death chamber.
All executions in Texas have been stayed or postponed since March, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gutierrez will now appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Following is a statement from Shawn Nolan, one of Mr. Gutierrez’s attorneys:
“We will appeal the reversal of a stay of execution for Mr. Gutierrez, who has sought DNA testing for decades. If DNA evidence exists, as it does here, it should be tested. The police collected several pieces of evidence containing biological material that can prove that Mr. Gutierrez did not kill Escolastica Harrison. There is no physical evidence connecting Mr. Gutierrez to this crime. The State should be leading the search for the truth, rather than obstructing it. Moreover, we will continue to litigate Mr. Gutierrez’s claim that the State’s refusal to allow a Christian chaplain to be with him in his final moments violates his First Amendment religious freedoms. As the federal district court held below, ‘the public interest will … be served by fair adjudication of the important issues raised by [Mr.] Gutierrez’s lawsuit.’”
— Shawn Nolan, Attorney for Ruben Gutierrez; Chief, Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
— June 12, 2020
As reported by the Associated Press, “The Fifth Circuit panel ruled the issues at play in Gutierrez’s case have been sufficiently litigated in state and federal court and the district court ‘abused its discretion’ in the staying execution.”
Here’s additional coverage, which includes excerpts from the Fifth Circuit’s ruling:
The District Court’s Stay Order, which was lifted, is here: https://tinyurl.com/ya6nvpyw
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Brownsville Division Memorandum and Order: https://tinyurl.com/yandg3bk
Mr. Gutierrez’s Amended Complaint Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: https://tinyurl.com/y984bglr
Mr. Gutierrez’s Motion for a Stay of Execution filed with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Motion for a Stay of Execution Owing to COVID-19 Pandemic can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/y74vb5v7