HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas death row inmate who won a reprieve when his request for his pastor to pray out loud and touch him as he received his lethal injection sparked legal debate has a new execution date.
A South Texas judge on Tuesday signed an order setting John Henry Ramirez’s execution for Oct. 5.
Ramirez, 37, had been set for execution on Sept. 8, 2021, but the U.S. Supreme Court blocked his execution and agreed to take up his case to address the role of spiritual advisers in the death chamber.
Last month, the court said states must accommodate the wishes of death row inmates who want to have their faith leaders pray and touch them during their executions.
Seth Kretzer, Ramirez’s lawyer, said Wednesday that a Houston federal court is still considering a civil rights petition he filed on behalf of Ramirez and that he doesn’t believe an execution can proceed until it’s resolved.
“Until it is assured that (Ramirez’s pastor) will be allowed to touch and pray as per Chief Justice Roberts’ mandate, my law firm will litigate Mr. Ramirez’s case down to the Gates of Hell, or back up to the Supreme Court of the United States, whichever we get to first,” Kretzer said.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it wouldn’t formally update agency rules regarding spiritual advisers in the death chamber following the Supreme Court ruling. The agency said such inmate requests would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and that it would work to grant them unless they present a substantial security risk or are “outrageous.”
Lawyers for the two Texas death row inmates next scheduled for execution — Carl Buntion on April 21 and Melissa Lucio on April 27 — have expressed concerns that their clients’ requests to allow spiritual advisers to pray aloud and touch them won’t be fully approved.
Other states and the federal government have recently carried out executions where audible prayer and some physical contact was permitted in the execution chamber.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections last year agreed to develop a policy for ministers to be inside the death chamber during executions, beginning with the December execution of Bigler Stouffer. The Rev. Howard Potts read scripture and laid hands on Stouffer during his lethal injection and said the inmate “was totally at peace.” A minister also was allowed inside Oklahoma’s death chamber during the January execution of Donald Grant.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in March came after the Texas prison system reversed a two-year ban on spiritual advisers in the death chamber in April 2021 but said they could not speak or touch the inmate.
Ramirez is on death row for killing a Corpus Christi convenience store worker during a 2004 robbery. Ramirez stabbed the man, Pablo Castro, 29 times and robbed him of $1.25.
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.