Supreme Court halts Texas execution of John Ramirez over request for pastor's presence

Supreme Court halts Texas execution of John Ramirez over request for pastor's presence
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court has halted Texas’s planned execution of John Ramirez over a request for a pastor to place hands on him as he dies.

In an order on Wednesday, the court granted a stay for the execution of John Ramirez, the same day it was slated to be carried out. The court indicated the case could be heard in October or November.

In 2008, Ramirez was convicted of capital murder for fatally stabbing Pablo Castro during a robbery spree in 2004. Ramirez confronted Castro outside of a convenience store in Corpus Christi, stabbed Castro 29 times and robbed him of $1.25.

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Ramirez challenged the execution multiple times for over a decade in state and federal court. He was initially set to be executed in 2017, but the Texas federal court stayed the execution. The state later rescheduled his execution for September 2020, but then that date was later canceled due to COVID-19.

While in prison, Ramirez maintained a relationship with Pastor Dana Moore, who leads the Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. Ramirez asked state authorities to allow Moore to be by his side in the execution chamber, and to pray over him during his execution.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office argued that existing state policy was sufficient in allowing the pastor "to pray out loud with him for up to two hours immediately prior to his execution,” according to The Texas Tribune

Ramirez’s attorney compared the policy to a “spiritual ‘gag order,’” the news outlet reported.  

A Texas federal judge denied Ramirez's request last week, finding the agency has a “compelling interest in maintaining an orderly safe and effective process when carrying out an irrevocable, and emotionally charged, procedure.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling on Tuesday. That afternoon, Ramirez appealed to the Supreme Court.

Ramirez would have been executed at 6 p.m. Wednesday had the court not intervened, The Texas Tribune reported. 

The state of Texas has executed two people this year, the news outlet noted, citing the Death Penalty Information Center