Court Bars Texas From Executing Inmate Unless it Allows Pastor’s Touch and Audible Prayer

This is a follow-up to an August discussion “Death-Row Inmate Sues to Allow Pastor to Touch Him During Execution”

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled 8 to 1 in favor of death row inmate John Henry Ramirez Thursday, upholding a preliminary injunction and ruling that Ramirez is likely to succeed on his request to have his pastor audibly pray and physically touch him while he is being executed.

Ramirez was convicted for the 2004 murder of Pablo Castro, a convenience store worker in Corpus Christi, Texas.  A trial determined that Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times, robbed the father of nine and grandfather of 14 of $1.25, and left him to die on the pavement.

The high court’s ruling regarding the pastor will affect neither Ramirez’s conviction nor his death sentence. Rather, it may allow Ramirez to have his spiritual advisor, Baptist Pastor Dana Moore, audibly pray over Ramirez and “lay hands upon him at the time of his death.”

Preacher Dana Moore

Only Justice Ginni Thomas dissented.

All told, Ramirez’s 11th-hour gambit in January 2017 bought him more than three years of delay. In the end, none of Ramirez’s federal habeas claims merited even a single certificate of appealability, let alone relief. Yet, through ceaseless litigation, strategic delay, and a “[l]ast-minute” blitz on the District Court, Ramirez parlayed his federal habeas petition into a 7-year deferral of his lawfully imposed sentence. We should interpret Ramirez’s actions in the instant litigation in light of that history, recognize that his shifting in-chambers-touching claim is just another chapter in that history, and reject his most recent attempt to delay his execution.

Here, Ramirez not only brought his claims piecemeal; he executed a bait and switch. He first demanded his pastor’s presence without touching, but then shifted and demanded touching when requesting Moore’s presence alone no longer gave him an excuse for delay. The majority’s analysis simply fails to factor in Ramirez’s inequitable conduct.


Thomas predicted that the rule that the Supreme Court outlined on Thursday will cause more problems rather than solving them, as inmates seek new accommodations that district courts recognize. The inmates, Thomas cautioned, “will then put the State to a stark choice: capitulate to the court-ordered accommodation that it thinks is dangerous, or litigate and delay the execution, knowing that the delay will count against it in the equitable balance.”


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