HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A federal appeals court Wednesday allowed a reprieve from Thursday's scheduled execution for a man convicted of killing a Corpus Christi convenience store worker in a robbery that garnered $1.25.
A judge on Tuesday let stand a stay of execution for John Henry Ramirez after Ramirez argued that he wanted a new attorney to file a clemency petition and investigate claims his previous court-appointed lawyer was deficient. Ramirez was sentenced to death for the 2004 slashing and stabbing death of 45-year-old Pablo Castro.
U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that Ramirez's previous lawyer left him "effectively without counsel" and there wasn't enough time for "serious consideration" of the appeal before Ramirez's scheduled execution, so she stopped the punishment.
The Texas Attorney General's Office appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the lower court. A three-judge panel of the appeals court let the order stand, saying late Wednesday they could find "no reversible error" in Ramos' decision.
State lawyers had pointed out in their appeal that Ramirez had ordered his previous lawyer to not file a clemency petition. They argued his previous lawyer did not abandon him and had continued to act on his behalf while setting the stage for arguments that led to Ramos' reprieve.
"This is not abandonment; it is gamesmanship," Assistant Texas Attorney General Jennifer Morris wrote. "It is a run-of-the-mill, last-ditch attempt to thwart his execution."
Gregory Gardner, the attorney who filed the appeal to Ramos and was appointed by her to represent Ramirez, had said allowing the punishment to move forward would deprive Ramirez of "his right to meaningful representation."
The U.S. Supreme Court in October declined to review Ramirez's case. The 5th Circuit earlier last year rejected arguments that the legal help at his trial was deficient.
Testimony at Ramirez's trial showed that he, his girlfriend and another woman ran out of money after three days of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs and turned to robbery to get more cash to fuel their binge.
They found Castro taking out the trash the night of July 19, 2004, as he was helping to close up the convenience store where he'd worked for 14 years. Evidence showed Ramirez stabbed and slashed Castro 29 times. Ramirez's girlfriend, Angela Rodriguez, went through Castro's pockets, taking $1.25. Ramirez and the two women then moved on to a couple of fast-food restaurants, robbing one customer in a drive-thru lane and attempting to rob another.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to life in prison. The second woman, Christina Chavez, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery charges and received three 25-year prison sentences.
Ramirez would have been the third Texas inmate executed this year, the fifth nationally. Another inmate is set to die in Texas next week.