In Texas, an inmate on death row has received a reprieve from execution due to the state claiming he could not have a pastor lay hands on him as he is executed.
37-year-old John Henry Ramirez was condemned for killing Pablo Castro in 2004 outside his convenience store. Prosecutors claimed that Ramirez stabbed Castro several times during a series of robberies that Ramirez and two female accomplices were involved with. The assailant was caught and convicted in 2007. Now he awaits his execution.
Ramirez asked that a spiritual leader be present at his death. However, prison officials have denied the request, arguing that such a spiritual leader posed a security risk and disruptive prayer. Ramirez proceeded to attempt to delay his execution by bringing it before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Wednesday night, the Supreme Court blocked Ramirez's execution, arguing that the blocking of spiritual advisors was a violation of Ramirez's spiritual freedom. His case will now be argued before the Supreme Court in either October or November.
Texas has had several legal conflicts connected to the involvement of spiritual advisers during a prisoner's execution. In April, the state reversed a ban, which barred pastors and other spiritual leaders from being within the death chamber. Prison officials enacted this ban after a Texas inmate argued that Texas violated his religious freedom because he was not allowed to have a Buddhist representative present.
Ramirez's lawyer describes the ban on spiritual advisors at the execution of a spiritual gag order, claiming that "It is hostile toward religion, denying religious exercise at the precise moment it is most needed: when someone is transitioning from this life to the next."
Mark Skurka, the lead prosecutor at Ramirez's trial, agrees that death row inmates deserve to have some form of spiritual advisor present. However, there need to be limitations. "Pablo Castro didn't get to have somebody praying over him as this guy stabbed him 29 times," Skurka told the Associated Press. "Pablo Castro didn't get afforded such niceties, and things like to have a clergyman present,"
If executed, Ramirez will be the sixth inmate executed in the United States this year.