A Texas death row inmate won a reprieve Wednesday evening from execution for killing a convenience store worker during a 2004 robbery that garnered $1.25 after claiming the state was violating his religious freedom by not letting his pastor lay hands on him at the time of his lethal injection. The US Supreme Court blocked John Henry Ramirez’s execution about three hours after he could have been executed. He is condemned for fatally stabbing 46-year-old Pablo Castro, who worked at a Corpus Christi convenience store. Ramirez was in a small holding cell a few feet from the Texas death chamber at the Huntsville Unit prison when he was told of the reprieve by Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.
“He was quiet when I let him know,” Clark said. “He shook his head and said: ‘Thank you very much. God bless you.’” In its brief order, the court directed its clerk to establish a briefing schedule so Ramirez's case could be argued in October or November, the AP reports. Seth Kretzer, Ramirez’s lawyer, had argued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was violating the death row inmate’s First Amendment rights to practice his religion by denying his request to have his pastor touch him and vocalize prayers when he was executed. He called the ban on vocal prayer a spiritual “gag order.”
“It is hostile toward religion, denying religious exercise at the precise moment it is most needed: when someone is transitioning from this life to the next,” Kretzer said in court documents. Lower appeals courts had rejected Ramirez’s argument. Texas prison officials say direct contact poses a security risk and the vocal prayer could be disruptive and would go against maintaining an orderly process. Aside from some prison officials, an inmate’s final statement and a doctor who announces the time of death, no one else usually formally speaks during an execution.
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