Texas to execute prisoner who won religious rights case

Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A Texas prisoner was due to be executed on Wednesday for the murder of a convenience store clerk in a legal battle in the United States over the religious rights of those facing executions.

John Henry Ramirez will be executed at 6 p.m. local time (2300 GMT) in the death chamber in Huntsville, state, where he plans to have his Christian priest lay hands on him , and prayed loudly as he died by lethal injection. Ramirez, 38, was sentenced to death for the 2004 stabbing of Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi.

The execution will come seven months after the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Ramirez’s case in favor of Texas, which rejected his request for pastoral contact and prayers at the time of his death. The decision strengthens the religious rights of prisoners sentenced to death.

The Ramirez case focuses on the protection of religion under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a 2000 federal law that requires officials to show a strong interest in denying prisoners requests based on religion and to do so using the least restrictive means .

Texas defended its position by emphasizing the need for security during executions. The state said outsiders touching prisoners in execution chambers could inadvertently damage IV lines, and vocal prayers could interfere with officers’ ability to monitor for signs of distress.

Ramirez was sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of Castro, a father of nine who worked overnight at a convenience store in the southern Texas city of Corpus Christi. Prosecutors said Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times to buy drugs and stole $1.25 on July 19, 2004.

Ramirez has been a member of the Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. Reverend Dana Moore regularly drives about 300 miles (480 kilometers) north to Livingston to pray with Ramirez in prison.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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