execution Future Dangerousness

State of Texas executes Ramiro Gonzales

Last night, June 26, 2024, the State of Texas executed Ramiro Gonzales for the 2001 kidnapping, rape, and murder of Bridget Townsend in Medina County. These crimes occurred barely two months after Ramiro’s 18th birthday while he was in the throes of a serious cocaine addiction rooted in childhood trauma and neglect. (The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2005 that the Constitution bars imposition of the death penalty on anyone under the age of 18.) 

Ramiro’s attorneys Thea Posel and Raoul Schonemann provided this statement:

Last night the State of Texas executed Ramiro Gonzales for a crime he committed as an eighteen-year-old boy. The man put to death for those acts was a different person. We are heartened that so many of you saw this.

Without the tools, support, or guidance that many of us take for granted, in the face of abuse and neglect most will never know, Ramiro floundered as a lonely and directionless child and teenager. He made poor choices. He sought escape through drugs. And he caused irrevocable harms. He took the life of Bridget Townsend, and he attacked Florence Teich. We grieve for these women and their families. So did he.

But the Ramiro who the State of Texas killed tonight was not the Ramiro who committed these crimes twenty years ago. The Ramiro who left this world was, by all accounts, a deeply spiritual, generous, patient, and intentional person, full of remorse, someone whose driving force was love. He sought to spread and embody love in all aspects of his life, even in the deprivation and physical isolation of death row where he lived for the past 18 years.

He showed love through his ministry to the men incarcerated alongside him—sometimes that looked like sermons and prayers, sometimes it looked like silly jokes, sometimes it looked like purchasing food for those without money in their accounts. He showed love in his relationships with many friends across the world, from pen pals and spiritual advisors to many semesters of our students, all of whom were touched by his genuine care for them and interest in their lives. He showed love to his family and friends through his art, his words, and his actions. And he showed love through his tireless efforts to donate a kidney to a stranger in need.

Ramiro knew he took something from this world he could never give back. He lived with that shame every day, and it shaped the person he worked so hard to become. If this country’s legal system was intended to encourage rehabilitation, he would be an exemplar.

Ramiro grew. Ramiro changed. May we all strive to do the same.

Bridget’s murder went unsolved for a year and a half until Ramiro suddenly confessed while awaiting transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice after pleading guilty and being sentenced to life imprisonment for an unrelated offense. During his trial, Ramiro’s court-appointed attorneys failed to present mitigating evidence related to his abusive upbringing, which would have provided context for his impulsive behavior and acts of violence.

Since the moment he confessed, Ramiro held himself accountable and sought to atone for the harm he has caused. In the almost two decades he spent on death row, he devoted himself to self-improvement, contemplation, and prayer. Ramiro was devoutly religious and shared his practice with spiritual advisors and with others on death row. 

Hear Ramiro in his own words in this interview with The Marshall Project and in the video that was submitted as part of his clemency application.

Earlier this week, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously against recommending clemency or a reprieve, despite evidence of Ramiro’s rehabilitation and remorse. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court denied his final appeals.

Ramiro also faced execution two years ago, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay and remanded his claim about false testimony by the State’s trial expert regarding recidivism ratesThat same expert re-evaluated him 15 years after the trial and concluded that Ramiro did not present a danger to anyone. Several guards on death row attested to his compliant behavior and positive impact on those around him. 

Ramiro’s cert petition asked the Supreme Court to review the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’s decisions denying and dismissing his post-conviction habeas application in which he challenged his death sentence on the grounds that he is ineligible for execution because there is no risk or probability of future dangerousness, a requisite finding for death-eligibility under Texas law. At Ramiro’s 2006 trial, the prosecution presented testimony from psychiatrist Edward Gripon claiming that young Gonzales would be a future danger “wherever he goes” because he suffered from an incurable mental disorder that would render him violent for the rest of his life. Dr. Gripon has since recanted his testimony, stating after a 2022 evaluation, “I don’t think that diagnosis would now be accurate, particularly in retrospect” – and most importantly, that Gonzales does not present a danger to others. 

Read more about the unreliability of predicting future dangerousness in capital cases.

Additional coverage of Ramiro’s case is available in the Texas Observer, Texas Monthly, and the Texas Tribune.

To date this year, Texas has executed two people. Nationwide, there have been eight executions carried out by five states (Alabama; Georgia; Missouri; Oklahoma; and Texas). Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Richard Rojem Jr. on June 27.