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Judge upholds execution for prisoner who sought contact with pastor

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas judge Tuesday rejected a request by a prosecutor who called the death penalty “unethical” to reverse the date of execution of a death row inmate whose case had raised legal questions about the role of spiritual counselors in the death chamber.

A warrant was signed on April 12, setting the execution of John Henry Ramirez on October 5. touching him and praying aloud during his execution.

But two days after a death sentence was issued, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez asked for the warrant to be revoked, because his office falsely asked for an execution date. In a judicial motion, Gonzalez said he “has a firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person while (Gonzalez) is in office.”

But in a court hearing on Zoom Tuesday, Corpus Christi County Judge Bobby Galvan, who signed the death warrant for the execution, said he believes Ramirez’s case has reached a point where setting an execution date is warranted.

“So, Mr. Gonzalez, I respectfully disagree with you. I’m not sure I have the authority to do that and for that reason I’m not going to revoke the warrant,” Galvan said.

Ramirez is on death row for killing a Corpus Christi grocery store worker during a robbery in 2004. Ramirez stabbed Pablo Castro 29 times and robbed him of $1.25.

After the hearing, Ramirez’s attorney Seth Kretzer said he and Gonzalez planned to file a joint motion against Galvan’s decision in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court.

“It is unprecedented for an unopposed/joint motion to revoke a death sentence to be rejected,” Kretzer said.

Gonzalez did not respond to a call and email asking for comment.

During a nearly 20-minute Facebook live video in April, Gonzalez said he believes the death penalty is one of “many things that are wrong with our justice system.”

“I don’t think the government should have that power to put people to death because historically the people who were put to death were of color, low economic status or even low intellect,” Gonzalez said.

Four of Castro’s children filed a motion to enforce Ramirez’s execution order, “ending an ordeal that has not brought peace and closure to Pablo Castro’s children for nearly two decades.”

In a letter, the Texas Attorney General’s office said Gonzalez’s “shifting ethical position” was not a legitimate reason to withdraw the warrant.

Ramirez, 37, had been executed on September 8, 2021, but the US Supreme Court blocked his execution and agreed to take his case to address the role of spiritual advisers in the death chamber.

In March, the court said states must comply with the wishes of death row inmates who want their faith leaders to pray and touch them during their executions. Following the Supreme Court ruling, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it would work to grant requests regarding spiritual counselors unless they pose a significant security risk or are “outrageous.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, Galvan wondered what would happen if he refused a prosecution request to set an execution date.

“I could refuse, but I don’t think I would have the authority to stop the execution,” Galvan said.

One such scenario is currently before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Prosecutors in Harris County, where Houston is located, are appealing a judge’s refusal to set an execution date for death row inmate Arthur Brown.

Last month, Houston judge Natalia Cornelio denied a request from prosecutors to set an August 31 execution date for Brown. Cornelio instead granted Brown’s request to find a new attorney who can investigate whether he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for execution.

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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