Texas executes John Henry Ramirez, who won a religious rights case in the Supreme Court

As the lethal injection coursed through John Henry Ramirez’s veins Wednesday night, the Rev. Dana Moore laid his hands on the Texas death row inmate’s chest. A prayer was heard as Ramirez was executed in Huntsville in a small room known as the death chamber, with its seafoam green walls and stretcher with restraints.

It was the conclusion of a 2004 murder trial that drew national attention after the Supreme Court ruled in March that Ramirez’s priest could touch him and pray during his execution. Ramirez, who said he experienced a spiritual transformation while on death row, had asked Moore to “feel my heart and feel when I change,” he told The Washington Post in 2021.

On Wednesday, Ramirez’s request was granted. Before he died at 6:41 p.m., Ramirez told the family of Pablo Castro, the father of nine he stabbed to death nearly two decades ago, that he appreciated their attempts to communicate with him.

“I tried to talk back, but there’s nothing I could have said or done that would have helped you,” Ramirez said, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The Supreme Court is considering the role of a minister at the time an inmate is executed

Ramirez was convicted of killing Castro, 45, in 2004 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Ramirez stabbed the convenience store clerk 29 times. He was 20 years old when he left the Castro to die in a parking lot, fleeing the scene with $1.25 in change. He evaded arrest by fleeing to Mexico until he was caught in 2008 and sentenced to death.

It was on death row that Ramirez met Moore and other members of the Second Baptist Church. He joined the church despite being a Messianic Jew, The Post reported.

Scheduled to be executed on September 8, 2021, Ramirez requested that Moore be there to pray and lay hands on him. However, Texas officials said Moore could be present during the execution but could not touch the inmate.

Ramirez’s religious rights case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, and as he waited in a waiting room on the night of his scheduled execution in 2021, the justices halted the proceedings. About six months later, the court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Ramirez and his request to have his priest in his hands when he was executed.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said Ramirez’s religious rights were protected by federal law. Texas, he added, should be able to grant the inmate’s request. If the chaplain is allowed to be in the room, “we don’t see how having the spiritual advisor stand a little closer, reach out and touch a part of the prisoner’s body far away from the site of an IV line would increase meaningfulness. risk,” Roberts wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the lone dissenter, said Ramirez appeared to be trying to delay his execution.

Castro’s family agreed, writing in an amicus brief to the court that “Pablo Castro’s children — and victims of violent crime across the nation — deserve better.”

“The Castro family’s suffering has been needlessly compounded by nearly a decade of unnecessary delays and manipulative, whipsawed litigation,” they wrote.

The Supreme Court says that death row inmates have the right to be touched by the priest during execution

After the court sided with Ramirez, his execution date was set for October 5. Next was an employee from Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez’s office mistakenly submitted a request for a new execution date.

According to court records, staff had not consulted with Gonzalez, who opposes the death penalty, before doing so. Gonzalez then filed a motion two days later to withdraw the death sentence. In June, a judge said he was “not sure I have the power” to take it back — marking the first time a motion like that had been denied by a judge, Ramirez’s attorney Seth Kretzer told The Mail.

In a last ditch effort, Gonzalez and Kretzer filed a motion last week to withdraw the ruling. It was refused. On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against commuting the execution.

All possible legal options to save Ramirez from execution were exhausted.

If his case were heard today, Ramirez “would not be prosecuted in most places,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that provides information and analysis on death penalty issues.

However, Dunham said several factors could have made Ramirez’s execution more likely, including his age and ethnicity.

It’s “really the convergence of all these arbitrary and discriminatory factors in imposing the death penalty,” Dunham added. “His case is emblematic because statistically the odds were stacked against him.”

On Wednesday morning, the 38-year-old was transported from the Polunsky Unit in Livingston to the Huntsville Unit — a 44-mile trip. Once there, he stayed in a holding cell until 6 p.m., where he was taken to the execution chamber, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Robert Hurst said.

Eleven witnesses — five for the victim and six for Ramirez — looked through the window to see the inmate take his last breaths, Hurst said. Castro’s son, Aaron, read a Bible verse that asks, “Who is a God like you, who forgives sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?”

“Peace and love and justice for Pablo G. Castro, may his name not be forgotten and may God have mercy on John Henry Ramirez because it is not up to us,” Castro said in his victim statement. “He receives his true judgment with our Lord and Savior. … A life taken away is not to be celebrated, but closure can certainly take place.”

Afterward, Ramirez said he regretted his “heinous act,” adding that he hopes his death will bring some comfort to Castro’s family.

“Just know that I fought a good fight and I’m ready to go. I’m ready, Warden,” where his last words.

Moore’s hands touched his chest until he was pronounced dead, officials said.

Robert Barnes contributed to this report.

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