Execution cannot proceed without religious requests

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction telling Texas prison officials they will only be allowed to carry out the planned execution of a death row inmate next week if they allow all of his religious accommodations, including his spiritual advisor to hold his hand. to keep. when he receives a lethal injection.

Ramiro Gonzales is scheduled to be executed on July 13 for the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Bridget Townsend, a southwestern Texas woman whose remains were found nearly two years after she disappeared in 2001

Gonzales, 39, has requested that when he is executed, that his spiritual advisor be allowed into the death room so that she can pray aloud, hold his hand and place her other hand on his chest.

“Receiving God’s touch is a sacred concept in the Bible and even the lepers were touched by God. The specific physical contact I have requested is vital to me as I make my spiritual transition to the paradise of God,” Gonzales said in court documents filed last month.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials granted all of Gonzales’ requests, except that he allowed his spiritual advisor to hold his hand. The officials have argued that allowing hand-holding could be a security risk because the consultant would be too close to the IV lines administering the lethal injection and the consultant would be in a location that would obstruct the view of authorities and witnesses would block.

The preliminary injunction issued Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Charles Eskridge in Houston, ordering Texas prison officials to allow all Gonzales religious accommodations, follows a civil complaint filed by the death row inmate seeking the Texas prison sentence. accused the prison system of violating his religious freedom.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Amanda Hernandez said on Wednesday that her agency is “still evaluating the court’s decision.”

A spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

In court documents, the Texas Attorney General’s office claimed that the prison system has not placed a “substantial burden on Gonzales’ religious practice.”

“Not only will his spiritual advisor be physically present in the room thus fulfilling Gonzales’ claim of spiritual significance, she will also be intimately close to Gonzales and maintain physical contact on his chest above his heart,” the attorney’s office wrote. General in court documents filed last month.

Various executions in Texas were delayed last year amid legal questions over Texas’ refusal to allow spiritual counselors to touch inmates and pray aloud when convicted persons are put to death. In April 2021, the Texas Prison System a two-year ban overturned about spiritual advisors in the death chamber, but limited what they could do.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled states must heed the requests of death row inmates who want their spiritual advisers to pray aloud and touch them during their executions.

According to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts urged states to establish clear rules in advance to avoid last-minute appeals to federal courts.

But the Texas prison system refused to formally update its rules, opting instead to review such requests from case to case† Some lawyers feared that not laying down specific rules would lead to more judicial challenges, such as Gonzales’s.

Gonzales’ was convicted of murdering Townsend, his drug dealer’s girlfriend. Gonzales kidnapped Townsend from her home in Bandera County in January 2001 after stealing drugs and money.

In a confession to police, Gonzales said he took her to his family’s ranch in neighboring Medina County, where he sexually assaulted her before shooting her.

Townsend was not found until October 2002, when Gonzales led authorities to her remains after serving two life sentences for kidnapping and raping another woman.

Gonzales’ lawyers also asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday to postpone his execution. Last week, they filed a separate request with Republican government Greg Abbott for a 30-day extension. Gonzales can make a kidney donation

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

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