Another Texas Execution Delayed Over Religious Freedom Claims | News from USA®

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By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) – Another Texas inmate has had his execution delayed for allegations the state violates his religious freedom by failing to let his spiritual advisor lay his hand on him at the time of his lethal injection.

Ruben Gutierrez was to be executed on October 27 for fatally stabbing an 85-year-old Brownsville woman in 1998.

But a judge on Wednesday granted a request from the Cameron County District Attorney’s office to set aside the execution date. Prosecutors said the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court review of similar religious freedom issues posed by fellow detainee John Henry Ramirez, whose execution was delayed by the High Court last week, will have a impact on the case of Gutierrez.

“As the Ramirez case can be decisive in any matter related to Gutierrez’s claim for religious freedom, it is in the best interest of the state, the family of the victim of Gutierrez’s crimes, that his execution be delayed,” prosecutors said in a filed motion. Tuesday.

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Gutierrez was previously within an hour of execution in June 2020 when the Supreme Court granted him a stay because his spiritual advisor was not allowed to accompany him to the death chamber.

Last month, attorneys for Gutierrez filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice violated his right to practice his religion by denying his request to have his priest touch his shoulder, praying aloud. voice and perform the last rites during its execution.

Gutierrez, 44, said those three things had to be done “to secure my path to the afterlife,” according to his complaint.

His lawyers cited the First Amendment to the Constitution and a federal law that protects the religious rights of an inmate. Ramirez made similar claims when he got a suspension.

The Supreme Court has dealt with the presence of spiritual advisers in the death chamber in recent years, but has not made a final decision on the matter. That could change after hearing oral arguments in the Ramirez case on November 1.

The court was criticized after refusing to stop the February 2019 execution of Alabama inmate Domineque Ray for his request to have his Islamic spiritual advisor in the death chamber, but then granted a month later a reprieve for Texas inmate Patrick Murphy, who wanted his Buddhist spiritual advisor in the bedroom.

Since then, the Supreme Court has delayed several executions following requests from spiritual advisers.

After the court stopped Murphy’s execution, the Texas prison system barred any clergymen from entering the death chamber. Texas previously allowed state-employed clergy to accompany inmates, but its prison staff included only Christian and Muslim clerics.

In April, the Texas prison system revoked its two-year ban. The new policy allows an inmate’s approved spiritual advisor to be in the bedroom, but the two cannot have any contact and voice prayers are not allowed during execution. Texas prison officials say direct contact poses a safety risk and vocal prayer could be disruptive.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the Ramirez case is an opportunity for the Supreme Court to determine whether detainees have the right to spiritual counsel in a death chamber and, if so, what is permitted in the exercise of that right.

“The fact that this case may provide the court with an opportunity to set a plan for what is and what is not acceptable is no guarantee that they will,” said Dunham, whose The group does not take a position on capital punishment but has criticized the way in which states carry out executions.

If the Supreme Court does not provide clear guidelines, this question will arise continually, Dunham said.

Gutierrez has long argued that he did not kill Escolatica Harrison in what prosecutors called an attempt to steal more than $ 600,000 the elderly woman had been hiding in her home.

His lawyers have requested DNA tests which they believe could point to the real killer.

Prosecutors said the request was a “ruse” and that Gutierrez was convicted on the basis of various evidence, including a confession.

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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