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Death row inmate sues state claiming rights violation at execution

Prisoner claims freedom of religion rights breached
John Henry Ramirez
Posted at 6:37 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 19:37:44-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — John Henry Ramirez and his attorney, Seth Kretzer, allege a Texas state prison intends to violate his first amendment right of freedom of religion.

In a federal lawsuit, Kretzer said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice won’t allow Ramirez’s pastor, Dana Moore, to put his hands on him during the execution. It's something that Kretzer said is an important part of Ramirez’s faith.

“The prison doctor needs to be touching the person as they’re executed and yet the State of Texas tells us that, a spiritual advisor, ordained pastor a man who’s preached for many years, cannot exercise his religion in the same way," said Kretzer.

"It gets even worse. Because now the prison is telling us that the pastor will not even be allowed to pray out loud in the execution chamber... Why can the pastor not pray aloud in the execution room? I did not know there was any place in the United States, a public place at least, where one could not pray."

Moore is the pastor at Second Baptist Church on Staples Street.

Ramirez was convicted for the murder of Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi in 2004. Ramirez and two others robbed Castro for $1.25 and Ramirez stabbed the man 29 times.

While his religious motion is underway, Kretzer filed a motion to delay Ramirez’s execution for what would be the third time. The state has until Monday to file a response.

Kretzer said he filed a similar civil rights lawsuit in 2020, on behalf of Ramirez. The state agreed to delay Ramirez's execution and Kretzer dropped the lawsuit. The first time Ramirez's execution was delayed was in 2017.

“I would be very interested to see what their reason is if they can think of one because, I mean to say the least, this is a mild-mannered pastor in his 60’s," said Kretzer. "He’s been vetted by the prison.”

Kretzer cited a similar Supreme Court case from 2019 where The Supreme Court issued a stay on Patrick Henry Murphy's execution. Texas Department of Criminal Justice would not allow Murphy to have his Buddhist spiritual advisor in the execution chamber. The Supreme Court ruled this a violation of the constitution.

“This is the front lines, this is trench warfare," said Kretzer. "This is actual constitutional litigation where we are literally the last line of defense. One, for the person who’s on death row, but I would argue more largely to defend the constitution of the United States.”

If a stay is granted to Ramirez, Kretzer anticipates the state will appeal the decision to the Fifth District Court. If the stay isn't granted, Kretzer said he will appeal to the same court and the Supreme Court if necessary.

We reached out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for comment and the response back simply said: “Nope.”