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Supreme Court stays Texas execution of ex-Marine

Supreme Court stays Texas execution of ex-Marine
John Ramirez was sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of Pablo Castro in Texas. File Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Sept. 8 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the execution of a Marine Corps veteran who was convicted of killing a convenience store worker in 2004 in Texas.

John Ramirez, 37, was set to be put to death by lethal injection at the Huntsville Unit on Wednesday evening for the murder of Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi, Texas.

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Ramirez sought to have his execution stayed citing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's policies on spiritual advisers during executions. The state allows a spiritual adviser to be in the death chamber, but Ramirez asked for Pastor Dana Moore to be allowed to put his hands on him and pray out loud during the execution.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday, however, that allowing the spiritual adviser to touch Ramirez during the execution could threaten the procedure.

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Tuesday's filing asked the Supreme Court to review the appellate court's decision. In a separate request, his lawyers also asked the high court to issue its own stay to give time to resolve the initial request for a review.

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Justice Samuel Alito granted the stay on Wednesday night.

Two years ago, the TDCJ banned chaplains from entering the state's execution chambers when the Supreme Court stayed an execution after Texas declined to allow an inmate to have a Buddhist spiritual adviser with him during the lethal injection.

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The state lifted the ban in April, revising its policy to allow death row prisoners to designate a corrections chaplain or other spiritual adviser of their choosing to be present inside the death chamber.

The Death Penalty Action organization on Tuesday called attention to Ramirez's military service and said the criminal justice system ought to consider whether veterans should be eligible for the death penalty, given the mental health challenges many of them face after service. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 30% of military vets have mental health problems after service, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Retired Navy Capt. Art Cody, director of criminal programs at the Veteran Advocacy Project and a member of the DPA board, said Ramirez should be held accountable for his crime, but that it could be accomplished without executing him.

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"The military experience, particularly if it involves combat, indelibly shapes the veteran, and often has significant causal or mitigation implications relating to criminal offenses," he wrote in a blog post.

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"Yet far too often that experience and its effects upon the veteran are neither properly treated by the VA nor adequately presented by the defense bar to juries and judges considering capital punishment, if they are treated or presented at all."

If Texas executes Ramirez on Wednesday, it'll be the third death sentence carried out by the state and sixth in the United States in 2021.

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