Top US court halts Texas execution of inmate seeking pastor’s touch

The US Supreme Court has stayed the execution of Texas inmate John Henry Ramirez, who requested the right to have his pastor hold him as he died.

Ramirez argued a Texas policy of not allowing spiritual advisers to touch inmates during execution violated his right to practise religion.

Prison officials have said the rule is in place “due to security concerns”.

In an order on Wednesday, the top court said the justices would take up the appeal in October or November.


It comes amid growing controversy over the use of capital punishment in the US.

Ramirez, 37, stabbed a man 29 times in a robbery that prosecutors said netted $1.25 (£0.91).

Following the murder, Ramirez fled to Mexico and remained a fugitive for three years before being caught near the border and sentenced to death.

Ramirez – who is being held on Texas’ death row unit – had previously received two stays of execution in 2017 to receive a new attorney and in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week, however, a federal judge rejected Ramirez’s request for another stay over the religious reason, saying the state had a “compelling interest in maintaining an orderly, safe, and effective process”.

The judge said that Texas was accommodating Ramirez’s beliefs by allowing the pastor in the room.

In August, Ramirez also filed a federal lawsuit against Texas prison officials to allow his pastor, Dana Moore, to put his hands on him at the time of death. The request had previously been denied.

His lawsuit argues that Texas’ refusal to allow Mr Moore to touch him violated Ramirez’s religious rights at a time in which “most Christians believe they will either ascend to heaven or descend to hell.”

Texas in 2019 banned all religious chaplains from execution chambers, after a Supreme Court ruling said the state must grant a condemned prisoner’s request for a Buddhist monk

Most Americans are still in favour of the death penalty, even though many have expressed reservations about its administration.

A poll from the Pew Research Center released in June suggested that 60% of US adults favoured the death penalty, though nearly 80% believed there was some risk that an innocent person could be put to death.

Five people have been executed in the US so far in 2021. In 2020, 17 were executed, compared with 22 in 2019.

To date, 23 states have abolished it. President Joe Biden’s administration ordered a moratorium on federal executions earlier this year.

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