John Henry Ramirez's attorney Seth Kretzer said Wednesday night that his client's fight has nothing to do with re-litigating his client's guilt, and everything to do with refusing to let him die in what he calls a "godless vacuum."
"All my client asked for was that a pastor, Dana Moore of Corpus Christi, be allowed in the execution chamber with him," Kretzer said Wednesday night. "This case ultimately came down to the right of a pastor in our community to say words of prayer."
In an email to KRIS 6 News, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Communications Officer Robert Hurst said only the warden currently is able to be in the death chamber with the condemned.
"The warden of the Huntsville Unit asks the condemned if they have any last words," he stated.
But Kretzer said that only allowing the warden to be in the room violates Ramirez's constitutional rights, and he said his client isn't the first to be subjected to it, saying there have been three prior instances in the last two years.
"The state of Texas has, for years, litigated these spiritual adviser claims, and as far as I can tell, they move from one constitutional violation to the next," he said.
As recently as 2019, the TDCJ allowed its Christian and Muslim clergy -- the only clergy it employed -- to be in the chamber with inmates at the time of their death. In March of that year, it changed its policy after inmate Patrick Murphy appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court because his Buddhist spiritual advisor would not be allowed to be with him.
Similarly to Wednesday's case, the High Court intervened, and Murphy's execution was stayed. It later agreed that denying Murphy's religious representative access constituted a rule that the state of Texas was required to allow all spiritual advisors to be present in the chamber, or none at all.
The state opted for the latter, denying inmates access to all clergy inside the death chamber.
Then in April 2021, the TDCJ again decided to allow clergy back in the room. When asked why the TDCJ is no longer conforming to that policy, Hurst declined to answer, saying that because of pending litigation, he is not in a position to comment.
"The state of Texas has spent vast amount of resources trying to fight a pastor's right to say a prayer," Kretzer said.
When asked if there are safety or logistical complications that could arise from allowing another person in the room, Hurst again said he was unable to comment because of pending litigation.
Kretzer, who is Jewish, said he and Ramirez don't dispute the conviction or the sentence handed down for killing Pablo Castro in a convenience-store robbery in Corpus Christi in 2004.
"There is no attack on Ramirez’s conviction," he said. "The appeals have long been done."
He said they only are trying to ensure Ramirez dies with his rights intact.
"All I can conclude is that there is no prayer-free zone in our country," he said. "There is no godless vacuum in the execution chamber or anyplace else. Laws are laws, and the constitution applies, and that includes the hell of an execution chamber right before a citizen is put to death."
For Castro's family, Kretzer's argument is semantics.
"It’s just like a slap to (her sister, nieces and nephews) -- no respect, no feelings for their hurt, anger, and pain," said Castro's sister-in-law Elaine Salcedo on Wednesday. "It’s just a waiting game, and once again the family is put on trial because they have to go through this."
Kretzer said the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Ramirez's case in October or November.
"I’m sorry these folks don’t have closure, but my job is to protect Mr. Ramirez’s interests, and -- more largely -- the Constitution," Kretzer said.
Multimedia journalist Seth Kovar contributed to this story.