‘It’s a slippery slope’: Cameron County DA weighs in on Supreme Court death penalty arguments

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CAMERON COUNTY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on Tuesday from a death row inmate.

John Ramirez argues his personal religious advisor should be allowed to pray and hold him when he is killed, Texas disagrees.

John Ramirez’s lawsuit has delayed his execution and also the execution of Ruben Gutierrez, who was sentenced to death in Brownsville for the 1998 murder of an 85-year-old woman during a home robbery.

Both men are claiming their religious liberties are being violated by the state.

Seth Kretzer, a defense attorney for Ramirez, argued before the Supreme Court that Texas’ new policy was too restrictive.

“The state’s policy was to allow a spiritual advisor to be present in the execution chamber, to lay hands on the inmate and to audibly pray,” Kretzer argued. “In 2019, that long-standing practice changed suddenly.”

Texas used to allow Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) chaplains to pray and lay hands on inmates during the execution process, but that changed in 2019 when spiritual advisors were required to stand in another room.

In April 2021, Texas allowed personal spiritual advisors to be in the room for an inmate’s execution but standing a few feet away from the prisoner.

Both Ramirez and Gutierrez want their advisor to be able to pray and lay hands on them during the process. State and federal prosecutors say requests like that are dangerous and a slippery slope.

Eric Feigin, a Deputy Solicitor General, said that the delays to executions for requests like Ramirez and Gutierrez got could possibly be an incentive “for someone to falsely claim a religious belief.”

Cameron County district attorney Luis Saenz said the Supreme Court asked some important questions about the requests of the defendants.

“Are you gaming the system? Are you delaying it because you don’t want to face your execution? Because you don’t want to face the sentence that a jury of your peers imposed on you?” Saenz asked.

Both Ramirez and Gutierrez have been sentenced to death for murder. Saenz said the outcome of this lawsuit won’t change that and is causing the families of the victims more grief.

“My opinion as a prosecutor this is a way for defendants to game the system,” he said. “So, if you say red, they’re going to say we want purple. If you say 20, they’re going to say we want 25. At what point does it end?”

Ramirez was set to be executed in September, Gutierrez in October. Both executions will remain on hold until the Supreme Court makes its decision.

The Supreme Court will continue hearing arguments on this case on Wednesday.

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