John Henry Ramirez wanted to die in physical contact with his pastor, accompanied by the prayers of the clergy person who had been mentoring him since 2015. He took that wish to the Supreme Court of the United States. While the case was being decided, the judges halted his execution scheduled for September 2021. The suspension came at the last minute, after the inmate had eaten his final meal. In March 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in his favor over the state of Texas, which opposed allowing the pastor to “lay hands” on the prisoner for security and safety reasons. On Wednesday night, Ramirez, 38, was finally executed by his pastor’s side via lethal injection. Ramirez was sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of Pablo Castro, a 46-year-old employee of a grocery store, who had nine children. Ramirez stole $1.25 from Castro and stabbed him 29 times. The lethal injection took 14 minutes to take effect, and the coroner pronounced Ramirez dead at 6.41pm (local time).
In his last words, Ramirez said: “I just want to say to the family of Pablo Castro, I appreciate everything that y’all did to try and communicate with me through the Victim’s Advocacy program. I tried to reply back, but there is nothing that I could have said or done that would have helped you. I have regret and remorse. This is such a heinous act. I hope this finds you comfort. If this helps you, then I am glad. I hope in some shape or form this helps you find closure. To my wife, my friends, my son, grasshopper, Dana and homies, I love y’all. Just know that I fought a good fight, and I am ready to go. I am ready, Warden.”
Dana is Dana Moore, reverend of the Second Baptist Church of Corpus Christi, Texas, who accompanied the convicted murder in his last moments. He supported the defendant’s motion, stating in writing to the court that he, too, needed to “be in physical contact with John Ramirez during the most stressful and difficult time of his life, in order to give him comfort. [...] Human touch has significance and power.”
Aaron Castro, the victim’s son, issued a statement Wednesday: “Peace and Love and justice for Pablo G. Castro may his name not be forgotten, and may God have mercy in J.H.R. for it is not up to us. He is receiving his true judgment with our Lord and Savior. The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. A Life taken away is not to be celebrated but closure can definitely take place.”
Ramirez’s defense team argued that not allowing the prisoner to be in physical contact with his pastor was a violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of worship, and prison law. The Supreme Court, which is the most conservative it has been in decades, voted in favor 8 to 1.
Texas is one of 27 states in the United States that still apply the death penalty. It is also one of the most active, and has five executions scheduled from now until March 2023.
Ramirez met with EL PAÍS last December on the death row of the Adam B. Polunsky high-security prison in Livingston, Texas, which has a capacity for 3,000 prisoners, of which 191 were then awaiting execution. The prisoner justified his aspiration to die in the company of his priest: “In religious services people shake hands and touch each other and, if it is going to be literally my last moment, it’s very important to do it that way.” As to whether he was afraid, he replied: “No, I want to [die]. It will be a relief to get out of this place. I want to stop feeling pain.”
He also recalled the night he killed Pablo Castro: “I was in the parking lot, inside the car, and then I saw my friend struggling with a man [Pablo Castro]. I went out to separate them and he hit me in the mouth, so I got angry, I took out the knife and started to stab him. I passed. I don’t know how to find another explanation, not even drugs, because at that time I was always high. I had a problem with my anger, I didn’t know how to control myself, but I realized how serious it had been. We left and I went to sleep at a friend’s house. I didn’t know that I had killed him until the next morning, when I saw my face on the television news, so I ran away to Mexico.”
He spent enough time in Mexico to believe he was safe. He married and had a son, “Grasshopper.” He traveled to Brownsville, Texas, with his partner to give birth. He suspected that those who helped him escape gave him away. In 2007, he was arrested. Now, 15 years later, Texas has executed him.