Lamentations: On John Henry Ramirez
In South Texas, John Henry Ramirez robbed and murdered Pablo Castro in 2004. In fact, Ramirez stabbed him 29 times. A short time later, Ramirez robbed a second victim. Then, Ramirez fled to Mexico where he was able to avoid capture for a little over three and a half years. No one disputes these facts…not even Ramirez himself. For his crimes, Ramirez was sentenced to death in Nueces County.
Truthfully, most were unaware that John Henry Ramirez’s September of 2021 execution date was approaching. In the State of Texas, executions are fairly routine and most often administered in short order with little legal resistance. To say that observers were surprised when the United States Supreme Court stepped in and issued a stay, would be an understatement. Even more surprising, was why the stay was issued. Ramirez’s attorneys successfully argued that his spiritual advisor should be able to pray and lay hands on him during the execution. A nearly unanimous Supreme Court (Justice Clarence Thomas dissented), ruled that these were constitutionally protected activities.
Which brings us to the present, John Henry Ramirez is scheduled to be executed in a matter of days, October 5. Ever since the second date was set, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez (who has come to an anti-death penalty perspective) has been trying to withdraw the death warrant (that was pursued as a matter of course by one of his assistants without his knowledge). District Attorney Gonzalez has repeatedly declared, “the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person.” Obviously, it is quite unexpected to find an elected district attorney in Texas who is outspoken in opposition to the death penalty. In addition to all the other aspects of this case, Ramirez is a United States Marine veteran with a variety of ailments from his service. So, what does all this mean?
Questions of religious liberty are undoubtedly of tremendous importance. John Henry Ramirez should be able to have a pastor praying and touching him during his execution. However, problems arise when we favor one religious group over another. It is not lost on us, that certain religious practices would never be allowed in the chamber. Can you imagine Jewish person being allowed to have a Shofar blown at their execution? Can you imagine a member of the Native American Church being allowed to smoke peyote at their execution? Can you imagine a Rastafarian being allowed to burn marijuana at their execution? If given enough time, one could fill up this entire article with similar questions. The bottom line is that the United States Supreme Court seems to be privileging Christianity over a variety of other faiths by allowing a laying of hands and prayers. Why not take a step back and acknowledge that most religions don’t support the death penalty to begin with? Does individual religious liberty not matter anymore?
Incessantly, we are told to trust the criminal justice system…except when we’re not. In the case of John Henry Ramirez, we have the Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez demanding that Ramirez not be executed. So why should we suddenly stop listening to the advice to trust the system? Shouldn’t Gonzalez’s conscience matter? It is wild to think that Ramirez might be executed without the support of the local district attorney. Does conscience not matter anymore?
Veterans are supposed to be given deference in our society. Primarily, because we ask them to take on physical and moral injuries in defense of our freedom. John Henry Ramirez did that. So why are we rushing to execute him? Does service not matter anymore?
The case of John Henry Ramirez speaks to many of the problems our society faces. The religious liberty of Christians trumps the religious liberty of all others. The conscience of the dissenter is too often dismissed. The service of the veteran matters as long as the repercussions of it doesn’t require too much from us. If we are to begin to heal our land, perhaps a good place to begin is to spare the life of Ramirez.
We lament that such restraint seems unlikely.
We lament that Pablo Castro was murdered. We lament that Texas is seeking to execute John Henry Ramirez. We lament that we haven’t been able to abolish the death penalty yet. We lament.
Lamentations is a series of short reflections derived from a reoccurring conversation that takes place before every scheduled execution in the United States between prominent abolitionists Death Penalty Action Executive Director Abraham Bonowitz and Convener of Clergy United Against the Death Penalty The Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood.