John Henry Ramirez Execution in Texas Blocked by Supreme Court on Religious Grounds

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the execution of a death row inmate who said his religious freedom would be violated by not having his pastor touch him as he received a lethal injection.

The reprieve, three hours before John Henry Ramirez was due to be executed on Wednesday, is the latest chapter in the debate in Texas and other states about the role of religious advisers in the death chamber.

According to prosecutors, Ramirez, 37, stabbed Pablo Castro, a 46-year-old convenience store worker in Corpus Christie, 29 times on July 19, 2004. He fled to Mexico, but was arrested three and a half years later. Two women who also took part in the robberies were convicted on lesser charges.

Ramirez's lawyer, Seth Kretzer, said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was violating a First Amendment right to practice religion by not letting Ramirez's pastor, Dana Moore, touch him and say prayers during his execution, an argument that had been rejected by lower courts.

The Supreme Court just stayed the execution of John Henry Ramirez, who was scheduled to be executed tonight by the state of Texas. The court also agreed to review the case on its merits, which will happen later this fall.

— Ruth Graham (@publicroad) September 9, 2021

Moore said the request to hold his hand or touch his shoulder or foot was about treating the condemned man "with a certain amount of dignity."

"It is hostile toward religion," Kretzer said in court documents, reported by the Associated Press, adding that it was "denying religious exercise at the precise moment it is most needed—when someone is transitioning from this life to the next."

However, Mark Skurka, the lead prosecutor at Ramirez's trial, said that Castro "didn't get afforded such niceties and things like to have a clergyman present."

In April 2021, a two-year ban on spiritual advisers in the death chamber in Texas was reversed, although there can be no physical contact between them nor any prayers said out loud during the execution.

Texas prison officials say there is a security risk with direct contact and that vocalized prayers could be disruptive.

Apart from prison officials, an inmate's final statement and a doctor who announces the death, no one else usually formally speaks during an execution.

The Supreme Court has halted a number of executions in Texas and Alabama over the issue of spiritual advisers for those facing the death penalty.

When Ramirez was informed of the stay of execution at the Huntsville Unit prison pending a reschedule of hearing his case in October or November, he "shook his head and said: 'Thank you very much. God bless you'," said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Newsweek has contacted the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for comment.

John Henry Ramirez on death row inTexas
John Henry Ramirez, 37, is on death row. The U.S. Supreme Court gave him a stay of execution as his lawyer argues he should be allowed a pastor to lay his hands on him as he received his lethal injection. Associated Press