Friday, February 3, 2023

High Court casts doubt on prayer demands of death row prisoner in Texas

WASHINGTON (NWN) — Conservative Supreme Court justices cast doubt on Tuesday’s demand for a death row prisoner in Texas that his pastor be allowed to pray aloud and touch him during his execution.

Executions in the nation’s busiest capital punishment state Texas have been delayed while court considers the question, The result would not remove anyone from the death penalty, but could clarify what religious housing authorities should do for prisoners sentenced to death.

Members of the court’s conservative majority suggested during arguments Tuesday that requiring Texas to accept a prisoner’s request could lead to a string of cases for other accommodations. A lawyer for the prisoner said the man would be satisfied with his pastor being touched, but judges questioned what further requests could come.

“What if the next prisoner says I have a religious belief that he should touch my knee. He should hold my hand. He should be able to put his hand on my heart. He should be able to put his hand on my head. One has to go through the entire human anatomy with a chain,” said Justice Samuel Alito.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh also expressed concerns about what a decision would mean for a prisoner to request a future request, with Kavanaugh asking whether all states would have to offer equal housing.

What would happen, he asked, if a state “allows bread and wine in the execution room just before execution” or allows the minister to “hug the prisoner”. Do other states have to do the same?

The case before judges involves John Henry Ramirez, who is on death row for murdering a Corpus Christi convenience store employee during a 2004 robbery. Ramirez stabbed the man, Pablo Castro, 29 times and robbed him of $1.25.

Ramirez’s lawyers sued after Texas said it would not allow his minister to pray audibly and touch him Because he is being given a lethal injection. Lower courts sided with Texas, but the Supreme Court stayed his September 8 execution to hear his case.

Texas says that a prisoner’s spiritual advisor may pray with him and give him advice until he is taken to an execution room and barred on a gurney. But Texas maintains that after that, while a spiritual counselor is nearby, he cannot talk to or touch the prisoner.

“An outsider touching a prisoner during lethal injection poses an unacceptable risk to the safety, integrity and solemnity of execution,” Texas told the judges in the brief filed with the court.,

Arguing for Texas, State Solicitor General Judd Stone II also told judges that Ramirez’s request is an attempt to delay his execution. Justice Clarence Thomas seemed to agree, asking if Ramirez had “changed his requests several times” and “filed last-minute complaints” and “if we believe this is some indication of a gaming system, So what should they do?”

Ramirez’s lawyer, Seth Kreutzer, told Thomas that was not the case. He has argued that A federal law that protects the religious rights of prisoners requires the state to accommodate Ramirez’s requests.

The court’s three liberal justices seemed more open to Ramirez’s arguments, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggesting that where Ramirez wants his spiritual advisor to stand, he might consider the barriers used by Texas or IV lines for deadly execution medicine. far away from And Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer both noted that Texas had in the past allowed pastors to touch prisoners.

The justices also recently heard from an attorney for the Biden administration about the federal government’s experience in carrying out multiple executions. Under the Trump administration, the federal government reintroduced the death penalty for the first time in 17 years, 13 of which were executed In the Federal Execution Room in Terre Haute, Indiana. During 11 of those executions that made news for potentially acting as coronavirus superspreader events, religious advisors were present and sometimes prayed aloud with the prisoners. There was brief physical contact in at least one case prior to administration of the lethal injection drug.

Arguing for the government, Eric Feigin told the judges that the federal government believed Texas to have a strong argument for not allowing a spiritual advisor to touch a prisoner during the administration of the lethal injection drug. Is. He said federal officials had not allowed this and that it would give him “very, very important concerns.”

He also said that it is difficult to know how a spiritual counselor might react during that time. He said the person could faint or stumble and move the IV lines. “If anything goes wrong here it will be disastrous,” he said.

Feigin also said that spiritual advisors stood about 9 feet away as lethal injections were being given during a recent execution. And he notes that the federal death hall is almost twice the size of the one in Texas.

As the court has become more conservative in recent years, it is less open to last-minute challenges to the death penalty. But the issues surrounding ministers in the Death Chamber has been one area where judges have been somewhat open about stopping the executions. In 2019, two prisoners asked judges to halt their executions for refusing to allow their spiritual advisors into the execution room. Wrestling over the matter, the High Court allowed one execution to proceed but stopped the other.Texas prisoner Patrick Murphy,

At the time of Murphy’s scheduled execution, Texas allowed state-employed religious advisors to be present in the execution room, but only employed Christian and Muslim advisors, not anyone who was Buddhist, Murphy’s faith. Justice Kavanaugh wrote That Murphy was not being treated equally.

Texas Responds By Blocking All Priests From The Execution Room, but the prisoners filed additional lawsuits. Texas finally changed its policy in 2021 To allow both state-employed clergy and external spiritual counselors who meet certain screening requirements to visit the execution room.

The current Supreme Court case has delayed the last two executions to be held in Texas this year.

Last month judges rescheduled the executions of Kosol Chanthakoumane, who was to die on November 10, and Ramiro Gonzales, who was scheduled for November 17. Gonzales’ new execution date is July 13 of next year, while that of Chanthakoumne is August 17.

Around 2,500 people are on death row across the country, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A total of 17 people were executed last year by five states and the federal government. The Biden administration announced earlier this year that it would halt federal executions While the Department of Justice reviews its policies and procedures. Still, just last month the administration argued before the Supreme Court for reinstatement of the death penalty in the conviction of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.


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