Brownsville murderer on death row continues request for priest in execution chamber

Local News

Ruben Gutierrez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A South Texas man set to be executed in October for murdering a woman in 1998 is calling on the state to allow him to have a priest present for his final moments alive.

Ruben Gutierrez, 44, is scheduled for execution on Oct. 27, 22 years after he was found guilty of murdering 85-year-old Escolastica Harrison in 1998.

For the past two decades, Guiterrez maintained his innocence and continuously fought against his execution.

Clerical errors, arguments over DNA testing, and other attorney deliberation delayed his execution date several times before authorities finalized on Oct. 27, 2021, for Gutierrez’s death date.

Now, a new fight has emerged from Gutierrez and his legal team as they petition to allow the inmate to have a priest present with him in the execution chamber.

Gutierrez has previously argued his First Amendment rights are violated by not allowing a spiritual advisor during his final moments, but the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has continuously denied his request.

This has prompted a new lawsuit from Gutierrez against TDCJ as they call for a priest to be allowed with him in the execution chamber.

In the court documents, attorneys argue Gutierrez is a devout Catholic requesting a priest pray aloud, perform Viaticum, and touch his shoulder in the execution chamber until he is pronounced dead.

Gutierrez’s team claims he has requested and been denied this action despite TDCJ’s execution procedure allowing a spiritual advisor to be present at the time of execution.

In email transcripts provided in the court documents, TDCJ provided no explanation for their rejection. However, they did approve the priest to be allowed to see Gutierrez during the visitation period on his execution day.

TDCJ’s 2021 execution procedure gives a long, comprehensive requirement for inmates to complete with their spiritual advisor in order for the two to be allowed in the execution chamber together.

Despite the rejection, Gutierrez has submitted multiple grievance reports about the issue requesting the priest be allowed with him.

Texas banned inmates from having spiritual advisors in 2019 after one death row inmate, Patrick Murphy, took his case to the Supreme Court after the state denied him a Buddhist spiritual advisor in his death chamber.

The state only held TCDJ chaplains of Christan and Muslim faith on standby at the time but the court ruled TDCJ must either allow all inmates to have a religious advisor of their religion or only allow religious advisors in the viewing room.

This was overturned in the TDCJ’s 2021 execution procedure, but authorities have still denied Gutierrez’s request saying they are not allowing advisors in the chamber at this time.

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