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Texas is set to execute John Ramirez despite the objections of the Nueces County prosecutor

Texas Jail.JPG
Mark Felix
/
The Texas Tribune
The Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville in 2020.

Ramirez was sentenced to death for murdering Corpus Christi convenience store clerk Pablo Castro. After a previous execution was halted, Ramirez won a Supreme Court case over death row inmates’ religious rights.

John Ramirez, 38, convicted of murdering a Corpus Christi convenience store clerk in 2004, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday, despite the objection of the Nueces County district attorney. And even though Ramirez’s execution has been delayed three previous times, his attorney said he has no further legal opportunities to stop the state’s latest attempt to put him to death.

Ramirez’s pastor will be alongside him in the death chamber, fulfilling a request he made during his latest scheduled execution one year ago. Texas initially denied his request to have a pastor touch and pray over him as he was executed, spurring a religious liberties case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court found Texas had violated Ramirez’s religious liberties by denying his pastor’s presence at his execution.

Following the Supreme Court decision, an employee in Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez’s office filed for a new execution date, despite the prosecutor’s ethical opposition to the death penalty. A Texas state district judge denied Gonzalez’s request to cancel the execution date request, again condemning Ramirez to die by capital punishment.

This week, the final avenues to prevent or delay Ramirez’s death sentence were exhausted, said his attorney, Seth Kretzer.

Ramirez’s legal team, with the support of Gonzalez, filed motions to both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the District Court of Nueces County to halt the process. But as of Sunday, both attempts had failed.

And on Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously denied Ramirez’ request for clemency, effectively eliminating all possible options to delay his execution.

Ramirez was convicted of capital murder in 2008 and sentenced to die for the 2004 murder and robbery of Pablo Castro, a convenience store clerk in Corpus Christi. Court records state Ramirez had stabbed Castro 29 times during a robbery spree to get drug money with two women. Castro had $1.25 on him.

Gonzalez’s office requested dates for Ramirez’s execution three times since 2016, but he told The Texas Tribune that he didn’t know it was possible to avoid setting a date. When he learned his office did not have to set an execution date, he opted not to do so.

Gonzalez said his ethical opposition to capital punishment stems from how the death penalty is imposed in Texas: Though 12% of the state’s residents are black, 45% of death row inmates are black.

“All we can continue to do is to not continue seeking the death penalty. That’s what I pledge to do, it’s the only thing in my power,” Gonzalez told the Tribune. Gonzalez was elected to a second four-year term as the Nueces County district attorney in 2020.

But in late April, one of his employees inadvertently requested a new date out of habit, Gonzalez said. State District Judge Bobby Galvan received the request and set Oct. 5 as the date of Ramirez’s execution.

Two days later, when Gonzalez learned of the error, he attempted to cancel the warrant, but Galvan denied the request.

In June, Galvan said Gonzalez is “the captain of the ship,” and what his staff does is on him. “I’ve really thought about this a lot,” Galvan said. “I respect y’all’s opinion on this, but I’m not going to withdraw the warrant.”

Both the Texas attorney general’s office and Castro’s family asked Galvan to move ahead with the execution.

As a last effort, Gonzalez and Kretzer, Ramirez’s attorney, attempted to withdraw the warrant of execution in the District Court of Nueces County last week. On Sunday, the local court denied the motion.

One day later, seven members on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against commuting Ramirez’s death sentence, exhausting his legal options to avoid capital punishment.

“While perhaps D.A. Gonzalez should have more quickly informed his staff as to his position that capital punishment is unethical, a new day is dawning in America where elected district attorneys can stand up to execution errors extrapolated from a prior generation,” said Kretzer.

Kretzer told the Tribune that he did not anticipate any new appeals or other legal filings ahead of Ramirez’s execution scheduled for Wednesday.