Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include inmate’s attorney and DA statement, and to correct the court granting the motion.
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (KVEO) — The Federal District Court has granted a motion for stay of execution for a death row inmate convicted of murdering a Brownsville woman.
Ruben Gutierrez has been on death row since 1999 after being convicted for the murder of Escolastica Harrison.
According to federal court records, Gutierrez filed a motion claiming that DNA testing was never performed; evidence, he says, that would demonstrate he did not commit the murder of Harrison.
Gutierrez also claims he wants a chaplain to accompany him during his final moments in the execution chamber.
In April 2019, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice changed execution procedures, stopping all “religious or spiritual advisors” from being in the execution chamber. Under the new protocols, the TDCJ says chaplains will be available to the inmates until they are transferred to the execution chamber and from there they must remain in the witness room.
Gutierrez says the new protocol violates his religious beliefs. After his request was denied, Gutierrez filed a lawsuit requesting “a reasonable accommodation to have a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber when he is executed.”
The court came to the conclusion that there are “legal and factual” questions raised by Gutierrez that support his claims.
” While the public has a strong interest in the execution of a valid criminal judgment, the public interest will also be served by fair adjudication of the important issues raised by Gutierrez’s lawsuit” reads the granted motion.
Gutierrez was schedule to be executed on June 16,2020. He was previously scheduled to be executed on Oct. 30, 2019. However, due to a clerical error on behalf of the Cameron County District Clerk, a stay of execution was ordered on Oct. 11, 2019.
One of Gutierrez’s attorneys, Shawn Nolan, says his client’s First Amendment rights are being violated.
“As today’s order reflects, Ruben Gutierrez’s case contains many troubling elements and requires careful court review before any execution can proceed.” Nolan said in a statement. “He has always maintained that he did not commit this crime and has repeatedly requested DNA testing to prove that fact.”
“It is amazing that the state of Texas has stated that it will test all prison inmates for the COVID-19 virus, yet refuses to agree to simply test the available evidence for DNA to prove whether or not Mr. Gutierrez was responsible for this crime. In a case with no physical or forensic evidence against him, to execute Mr. Gutierrez without conducting DNA testing would be the ultimate violation of his civil rights.”
Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz says he is disappointed with the court’s decision.
“Personally, I’m extremely disappointed for the Harrison Family who once again havebeen re-victimized by the cowardly actions of a cold blooded murderer and his manipulation of the criminal justice system. ” Saenz said. “As a prosecutor, I will channel said disappointment to re-enforce my commitment and resolve to continue advocating for the Harrison family and will not give up untilthe justice they have beenwaitingmore than 20 years foris served.”