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Texas stays execution after man's lawyer drops case

By
Daniel Uria
A federal judge stayed the execution of Ruben Gutierrez after his attorney file to be removed from his case last month. Photo courtesy Texas Department of Criminal Justice
A federal judge stayed the execution of Ruben Gutierrez after his attorney file to be removed from his case last month. Photo courtesy Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Aug. 30 (UPI) -- A federal judge granted a stay of execution for a Texas man convicted of murdering an 85-year-old woman 20 years ago.

Senior U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle on Wednesday granted 41-year-old Ruben Gutierrez a stay on his execution by lethal injection, originally scheduled for Sept. 12 at 6 p.m., after his attorney asked to be removed from the case last month.

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"Allowing the execution to proceed, however, would deny Gutierrez any meaningful opportunity to conduct an investigation into the factual and legal basis of potential claims," Tagle wrote.

Gutierrez's original attorney, Margaret Schmucker, filed a motion to be removed form the case, stating she didn't have the experience to represent him at this stage in the process.

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Tagle also noted Schmucker is no longer allowed to practice in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals due to "rude and unprofessional communications with court staff."

Gutierrez's new attorneys put in a motion to stay his execution, stating Schmucker never disclosed these conditions to her client.

"Through no fault of his own, Mr. Gutierrez is before this court less than a month before his scheduled execution with counsel who were appointed to his case within the past 10 days," the motion stated.

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Gutierrez was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of trailer park owner Escolastica Harrison.

Authorities said he knew Harrison through her nephew and worked together with accomplices Pedro Garcia and Rene Garcia to rob her of about $600,000 in cash she had stashed in her home. An autopsy showed Harrison had been beaten and stabbed 13 times with two different screwdrivers.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said his team was "terribly disappointed" a stay was granted, but added the Texas Solicitor General's Office filed a motion to vacate the stay of execution.

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"We're hoping to hear something as early as this week," Saenz said. "We're hoping the execution will go forward."

Saenz added that Gutierrez's new attorneys would likely file a request to DNA test crime scene forensic evidence.

Gutierrez said he helped organized the robbery, but didn't take part in the murder and DNA testing would absolve him.

His attorneys said his requests to have the DNA tested have never been fulfilled. Saenz said Gutierrez previously confessed to the crime and conducted DNA testing.

"Mr. Gutierrez has fought for nearly a decade to have the forensic evidence in his case DNA tested -- including fingernail scrapings, blood stains, and hair evidence. To date, none of it has been tested," his new attorneys' motion stated.

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