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Nearly three hours after John Ramirez was scheduled to die in a Texas prison Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court halted his execution.

It's the third time since 2019 that the nation's high court has stopped a Texas execution over the state prison system's rules on how religious advisers can attend to condemned prisoners as they die. In a short order Wednesday night, the court asked that oral arguments be brought before the justices in October or November.

Ramirez, 37, was convicted of capital murder in 2008 and sentenced to die for the 2004 murder and robbery of Pablo Castro, a convenience store clerk in Corpus Christi. Court records state Ramirez had stabbed Castro 29 times during a robbery spree to get drug money with two women. Castro had $1.25 on him.

For third time in recent years, U.S. Supreme Court halts a Texas execution over rules for religious advisers in the death chamber

John Ramirez was scheduled to die Wednesday. His last request to the state had been to let his pastor hold on to him as he died, something the state denied. The high court wants to hear oral arguments on the matter later this year.

by Jolie McCullough Sept. 8, 2021 Updated: 11 hours ago

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John Ramirez was set to die for the 2004 stabbing death and robbery of Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi. Credit: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

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Nearly three hours after John Ramirez was scheduled to die in a Texas prison Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court halted his execution.

It's the third time since 2019 that the nation's high court has stopped a Texas execution over the state prison system's rules on how religious advisers can attend to condemned prisoners as they die. In a short order Wednesday night, the court asked that oral arguments be brought before the justices in October or November.

Ramirez, 37, was convicted of capital murder in 2008 and sentenced to die for the 2004 murder and robbery of Pablo Castro, a convenience store clerk in Corpus Christi. Court records state Ramirez had stabbed Castro 29 times during a robbery spree to get drug money with two women. Castro had $1.25 on him.

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After his execution had been set this year, Ramirez’s last request to the state had been to let his pastor hold on to him as he died.

It was a request the Texas prison system had rejected. Ramirez argued the decision violated his religious rights, but lower courts have sided with the state.

“[The Texas Department of Criminal Justice] has a compelling interest in maintaining an orderly, safe, and effective process when carrying out an irrevocable, and emotionally charged, procedure,” U.S. District Judge David Hittner ruled last week.

The district judge added that TDCJ “will accommodate Ramirez's religious beliefs by giving Ramirez access to his pastor on the day of execution and allowing him to stand nearby during the execution.”

TDCJ’s current execution protocol allows for prisoners’ spiritual advisers to be in the death chamber, but standing in the corner “due to security concerns,” according to an email from the agency’s general counsel included in the court record.

“I understand that I will be able to stand in the same room with John during his execution, but I will not be able to physically touch him,” Dana Moore, the pastor at Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, wrote in an affidavit filed in court last month. “I need to be in physical contact with John Ramirez during the most stressful and difficult time of his life in order to give him comfort.”

For years, chaplains employed by TDCJ would often be in the room during executions, praying and resting a hand on the prisoner’s leg. But the agency only had Christian and Muslim advisers on staff.

In 2019, when a Buddhist prisoner was told his adviser would not be allowed in the room with him as he was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital, he argued it was religious discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, halting the March 2019 execution and setting into motion a yearslong back-and-forth over Texas’ execution protocols.

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