Last night, October 5, 2022, the State of Texas put John Ramirez to death. He was convicted of killing Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi in 2004. Ramirez was 20 years old at the time of the offense.
Earlier this week, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted not to recommend clemency, ignoring the fact that the jury that sentenced Ramirez to death never heard about his traumatic childhood and mental health issues, including an attempted suicide. Evidence that Ramirez has grown mentally, emotionally, and spiritually during his years on death row also failed to persuade Board members. Ramirez was active in prison ministry as well as the prison radio station at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, which houses Texas’s death row.
The execution came after extensive legal wrangling about the presence and practices of spiritual advisors in the execution chamber.
In September 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Ramirez’s execution to consider his federal complaint alleging the violation of the free exercise of his religious beliefs. Ramirez had requested that his spiritual advisor, Pastor Dana Moore of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, be allowed to lay hands upon him in the execution chamber and pray aloud at his moment of death in accordance with his religious practice. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) denied those requests. The Justices heard oral arguments in the case on November 9, 2021.
In the Court’s opinion in Ramirez v. Collier, released on March 24, 2022, it upheld the religious rights of individuals facing execution in Texas. In compliance with that decision, TDCJ now is considering requests involving spiritual advisors on a case-by-case basis; it allowed Pastor Moore to lay hands upon Ramirez and pray aloud.
“Our society would be better if John is allowed to live,” Moore said in a recent interview with CNN, noting that Ramirez wanted to spend the rest of his life working behind bars to minister to other inmates. “Isn’t that going to be a better thing than executing him? If he’s executed October 5, are you really that much safer on October 6?”
Ramirez’s latest execution date was sought without the knowledge or consent of Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez, who has publicly expressed his belief that the death penalty is unethical. Gonzalez filed a motion to withdraw the date but a state district judge rejected his request. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied a stay of execution and refused to intervene in the state district judge’s refusal to withdraw the execution date.
Ramirez was the third person put to death in Texas this year; three other people received stays of execution. Two more executions are scheduled for November and several have been set already for 2023.
Nationwide, 11 people have been put to death this year. These executions have occurred in five states; in addition to Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Missouri are scheduled to carry out more executions in the remaining months of 2022.