Texas will review prayer and touch execution requests on a case-by-case basis

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HOUSTON (AP) — Texas prison officials said Tuesday they have no plans to officially update their rules after last week’s Supreme Court ruling that said states must respond to convicts’ requests to death who wish to have their spiritual adviser

HOUSTON (AP) — Texas prison officials said Tuesday they have no plans to officially update their rules after last week’s Supreme Court ruling that said states must respond to convicts’ requests to death who want their spiritual advisers to pray aloud and touch them during their executions.

But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said such detainee requests would be considered on a case-by-case basis and that unless they pose a substantial security risk or are “outrageous”, they will be considered on a case-by-case basis. would endeavor to grant them.

However, a lawyer for the death row inmate, John Ramirez, on whom the Supreme Court ruled last week, said dealing on a case-by-case basis and not setting specific rules would not solve this problem.

“By not changing the protocol on what the pastor can and cannot do, they are simply inviting a future federal judge to stay an execution,” said Seth Kretzer, Ramirez’s attorney.

Ramirez is on death row for killing a Corpus Christi convenience store employee during a 2004 robbery. Ramirez stabbed the man, Pablo Castro, 29 times and stole $1.25 from him.

In an 8-1 advisory issued last week, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that it was possible to accommodate Ramirez’s request to have his pastor touched and pray aloud during his execution without posing increased risk. for safety or be a disturbance as Texas had argued. .

Roberts suggested states “adopt clear rules in advance” about touching inmates and praying aloud to avoid delays in execution and ensure “the prisoner’s interest in religious exercise.” “.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said, “Our enforcement protocol (current policy) will not change. When a spiritual advisor is chosen and asks to pray and/or touch the inmate, we will consider each on a case-by-case basis.

When asked for clarification on the statement, an agency spokesperson said officials would strive to accommodate and grant the most reasonable requests.

“Unless there is just something ridiculously outrageous … we feel that we can, by talking one-on-one with the spiritual advisor, welcome them if they need to be touched and to pray “said the spokesperson.

The High Court decision came after the Texas prison system in April 2021 overturned a two-year ban on spiritual counselors in the death chamber, but limited what they can do. Texas instituted the ban after the Supreme Court in 2019 halted the execution of Patrick Murphy, who argued his religious freedom was being violated because his Buddhist spiritual advisor was not allowed to accompany him. Murphy remains on death row.

The decision in Murphy’s case came after the court was criticized for refusing to stop the 2019 execution of Alabama inmate Domineque Ray for his request to have his Islamic spiritual advisor in the room of the dead.

The spokesperson for the Texas prison system agency said officials believe setting specific rules on touching and praying would lead to more lawsuits and delays in enforcement.

But Kretzer said that by not setting specific rules about what spiritual counselors can and cannot do, Texas prison officials were not fully heeding the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Their statement sounds to me like they’re humming the words, but they’re not singing the tune that CJ Roberts gave them last week,” Kretzer said.

Kretzer pointed to a case in Alabama of death row inmate Willie B. Smith III, who was executed in October after an agreement was reached establishing specific rules about what Smith’s pastor could do in the death chamber. as an example of how rules related to spiritual advisors can be specific.

“They managed to do it,” Kretzer said.

Kretzer predicted that unless Texas creates specific rules about what spiritual advisors can and cannot do in the death chamber, “we’ll be back to where we were before last week’s ruling. : disputes, reprieve”.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice “always wants to keep some ambiguity in order to keep the enemy on their toes. They always want you to guess,” Kretzer said. “Unfortunately, lawyers and especially federal courts don’t like to guess. They love details.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press

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