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Texas District Attorney Files Motion to Halt Execution of Death Row Inmate John Henry Ramirez, But Not Because of Anything SCOTUS Had to Say

John Henry Ramirez pictured sitting in the visitation room in prison, behind Plexiglas

John Henry Ramirez pictured sitting in the visitation room in prison, behind Plexiglas.

The scheduled Oct. 5, 2022 execution of convicted murderer John Henry Ramirez will likely be halted after the county prosecutor overseeing the case asked the court for a recall. According to court documents, the only reason Ramirez’s execution had been scheduled in October was because of a miscommunication within the district attorney’s office.

Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez filed a motion to recall Ramirez’s execution date and death warrant on Thursday, citing his “firm belief” that the death penalty is unethical.

In a 1-page document that could mean the difference between life and death for Ramirez, Gonzalez wrote the following:

The undersigned District Attorney for Nieces County has the firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person while the undersigned occupies the office in question. The Assistant District Attorney who most recently moved for an execution date in this case was not aware of my desire in this matter and did not consult me prior to moving for an execution date.

Ramirez, a former Marine, was convicted for the 2004 murder of Pablo Castro, a convenience store worker in Corpus Christi, Texas. A trial determined that Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times, robbed the father of nine and grandfather of 14 of $1.25, and left him to die on the pavement. Ramirez was sentenced to death for his crimes.

Ramirez’s case drew national attention in March when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in his favor over a request that his pastor be permitted to enter the death chamber and “lay hands on” Ramirez while praying over him at the time of his execution. Although Ramirez prevailed before SCOTUS just weeks ago, the high court’s decision was limited to the issue of allowing Ramirez’s pastor into the execution chamber. The justices were not asked—and did not consider—any legal issues that would have halted Ramirez’s execution altogether. In any event, retiring Justice Stephen Breyer has often stood alone in highlighting the constitutional “problems with the death penalty.”

Gonzalez was not the district attorney when Ramirez was convicted, but has been in office for the past five years, during which multiple execution dates were set. Gonzalez said in a Facebook Live video on Thursday night that he would not only halt efforts to stop Ramirez’s execution, but also would oppose the death penalty for any capital murderer while he is in office. Gonzalez’s current term as District Attorney expires in 2024.

“I’ve, for awhile now, said that I don’t believe in the death penalty,” Gonzalez said. “My office is not going to seek the death penalty anymore. And that’s just the way I feel.”

Ramirez’s attorney, Seth Kretzer, reacted to this latest development in the case via email to Law&Crime.

“This welcome news on the eve of Good Friday, Easter, and Passover informs my belief that the litigation of Mr. Ramirez’s case this last year has touched some small part of America’s soul,” said Kretzer.

Kretzer continued, referencing SCOTUS’s recent ruling in his client’s favor against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s refusal to allow Ramirez’s death-chamber request.

“Just as TDCJ’s immoral protocol on ministerial touch and prayer was found to be illegal by the Supreme Court of the United States, the District Attorney yesterday made the moral determination—and correct legal judgment—not to proceed with Ramirez’s execution set for October,” he said.

Kretzer predicted that the presiding judge will grant DA Gonzalez’s motion to halt Ramirez’s execution, and promised to take further action if necessary.

“I look forward to Judge Galvan’s order withdrawing the death warrant which was signed only two days ago,” Kretzer said. “Otherwise, we will immediately file a mandamus with the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin.”

The Nueces County District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[screengrab via KRIS-6 News]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos