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Texas appeals court lifts stay for death row inmate

Ruben Gutierrez was convicted of murder for the 1998 slaying of trailer park owner Escolastica Harrison. File Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Corrections
Ruben Gutierrez was convicted of murder for the 1998 slaying of trailer park owner Escolastica Harrison. File Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Corrections

Feb. 27 (UPI) -- A Texas appeals court this week denied a DNA test request for a death row inmate and lifted an earlier court's stay on his execution.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that Ruben Gutierrez didn't meet the requirements for obtaining a post-conviction DNA test.

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Gutierrez, convicted of murder for the 1998 slaying of trailer park owner Escolastica Harrison, sought the testing of nail scrapings and loose hairs taken from the victim, a shirt belonging to a family member of Harrison and other clothing items. He says the testing would prove his innocence.

The appeals court said that even if Gutierrez did meet the conditions for DNA testing, it wouldn't be enough to exonerate him.

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The court also lifted a temporary stay put in place in August by a federal judge.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz said he planned to request a new execution date for Gutierrez on Thursday.

"According to this schedule, Gutierrez will see a new potential execution date as early as June," his office said in a statement. "We hope to see justice is done for the Harrison family, including Escolastica's sister, whose anguish has spanned the 22 years since her death."

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U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle in August 2018 granted Gutierrez a stay after his lawyer asked to be removed from his case. Margaret Schmucker filed a motion to be removed saying she didn't have the experience to represent him at that stage in his appeals process.

Tagle also noted Schmucker was no longer allowed to practice in the 5th U.S. 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.

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Authorities said Gutierrez 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.

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

Daniel Uria contributed to this report.

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