John Henry Ramirez is set to die on Wednesday, and one federal lawsuit filed in August in his case has nothing to do with stopping the execution. Rather, the 37-year-old Texan is seeking to have his pastor lay his hands on him as he is put to death. "It would just be comforting," says Ramirez, who stabbed a convenience store worker to death in 2004 in a robbery that got him just $1.25. That request has been denied, hence the suit, which argues that his right to freely exercise his religion is being hindered "when religious instruction and practice is most needed," at the moment "when most Christians believe they will either ascend to heaven or descend to hell."
The New York Times reports the state has argued that Pastor Dana Moore can't do that very thing because of regulations meant to preserve the safety and security of the process. The retort from Seth Kretzer, Ramirez's lawyer: "You’re in the most secure facility in the entire prison system." The Austin Chronicle reports the state earlier this year responded to a series of suits from other death-row inmates by allowing the presence of a chosen spiritual adviser in the execution chamber.
But Kretzer says the terms of that policy are onerous. Under them, Moore "will not be allowed to speak in any way. He cannot pray aloud. He cannot sing a prayer. He cannot do anything in this room except basically stand in a corner and breathe." And as Moore told Christianity Today, speaking—and touching—is key. "When I pray with people, I put a hand on them. When I go to the hospital, I hold the person's hand. ... And that's what John wants me to be able to do. To have me touch him. To have that support. To have that type of blessing." (Read more death row stories.)