Texas executes inmate who opposed sentence, touches rules


A Texas death row inmate whose case redefined the role of spiritual advisers in execution chambers across the country was executed Wednesday, despite efforts by a district attorney to stop his lethal injection.

John Henry Ramirez, 38, was executed at Huntsville State Penitentiary. He was convicted of killing Pablo Castro, 46, in 2004 while he was taking out the garbage while working at a convenience store in Corpus Christi.

“I have regret and remorse,” Ramírez told five of Castro’s relatives, including four of his children, as they watched through a window a few feet from him. “This is such a heinous act. I hope this comforts you. If this helps you, then I’m glad.”

“I hope this helps you find closure in some way.”

He expressed love to his wife, son and friends, concluding with, “I just know I fought a good fight and I’m ready to go.”

When the lethal dose of pentobarbital took effect, he took several deep breaths and then began to snore. Within a minute, all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead 14 minutes later, at 6:41 pm CDT.

Prosecutors said Ramirez robbed Castro of $1.25 and then stabbed him 29 times. Castro’s murder took place during a series of robberies carried out by Ramírez and two women after a three-day drug binge. Ramírez fled to Mexico but was arrested three and a half years later.

Ramírez defied state prison rules that prevented his pastor from touching him and praying aloud during his execution, saying his religious freedom was being violated. That defiance caused his execution to be delayed, as well as the executions of others.

In March, the US Supreme Court sided with Ramirez, saying states must accommodate the wishes of death row inmates who want their religious leaders to pray and touch them during their executions.

Before Ramírez made her final remarks, her spiritual advisor, Dana Moore, placed her right hand on the inmate’s chest and held it there during the execution. With his back to the witnesses, Moore offered a short prayer.

“Look at John with your grace,” he prayed. “Grant him peace. Grant us all peace.” He spoke of “the Lord is my shepherd.”

When Moore finished his sentence, Ramírez replied, “Amen.”

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously refused to commute Ramirez’s death sentence to a lesser sentence. According to his attorney, Ramírez had exhausted all possible appeals and no final request to stop the execution was filed with the US Supreme Court.

The lead prosecutor in Ramírez’s 2008 trial, Mark Skurka, said it was unfair that Ramírez had someone praying for him when he died when Castro was not given the same opportunity.

“It’s been a long time coming, but Pablo Castro will probably finally get the justice his family has sought for so long, despite the legal delays,” said Skurka, who later served as the Nueces County District Attorney before retiring. .

Ramirez’s attorney, Seth Kretzer, said that while he empathizes with the Castro family, his client’s challenge was to protect religious freedoms for all. Ramírez was not asking for something new but rather something that has been part of the case law throughout history, Kretzer said. He said that even Nazi war criminals were given ministers before their execution after World War II.

“That was not a reflection of any favor we were doing the Nazis,” Kretzer said. “Providing religious administration at the time of death is a reflection of the relative moral strength of the captors.”

Kretzer said Ramirez’s spiritual adviser was also allowed to hold a Bible in the death chamber, which had not been allowed before, but it was not clear to witnesses if Moore was carrying the book.

Ramirez’s case took another turn in April when current Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez asked a judge to drop the death sentence and delay the execution, saying it had been ordered in error. González said that he considers the death penalty “unethical.”

During a nearly 20-minute Facebook Live video, Gonzalez said he believes the death penalty is one of “many things that are wrong with our justice system.” González said that he would not seek the death penalty while he remains in office.

He did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.

Also in April, four of Castro’s sons filed a motion asking that the order for Ramírez’s execution be upheld.

“I want my father to finally have his justice and also the peace to finally move on with my life and for this nightmare to end,” Fernando Castro, one of his sons, said in the motion.

On Wednesday night, Fernando Castro described the punishment as “late in coming” and said that Ramírez’s apology to him and his brothers “was not going to bring our dad back.”

“He could say what he wanted to say. If it’s true, who knows? I feel like my father finally got his justice, but I’m not happy with the situation.”

In June, a judge rejected González’s request to withdraw Wednesday’s execution date. Last month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to even consider the request.

Ramírez was the third inmate executed this year in Texas and the 11th in the US Two more executions are scheduled for this year in Texas, both in November.


Lozano reported from Houston.

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