OUR VIEWPOINT: Even among death row states, Texas stands out | Opinion
SINCE the United States Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Texas has applied the law with singular enthusiasm. Its 572 executions represent more than a third of the national total.
In addition to executing the most prisoners, Texas does so with the least respect for human dignity, compassion, and constitutional standards.
When the United States Supreme Court banned the execution of mentally disabled prisoners in 2002, Texas responded by killing two death row inmates – Marvin Wilson and Robert Ladd – with IQs below 70.
Now, another clash between Texas and the U.S. Constitution shows, yet again, just how lonely Texas is, even among death row states.
On September 8, the United States Supreme Court blocked the execution of John Henry Ramirez, 37, after Texas refused to allow a pastor to lay hands on Ramirez and pray during the lethal injection .
Judges will hear arguments Nov. 1 on whether Texas violated Ramirez’s First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion.
The pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling could delay most, if not all, of the five Texas executions scheduled for the remainder of the year.
Texas prison officials argue that a pastor touching the dying prisoner during prayer would be disruptive and pose a security risk.
Disruptor for whom or what? The security argument is equally ludicrous, assuming an unarmed pastor, carefully vetted by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, would threaten a secure prison with a platoon of prison officers.
In truth, the demands of the Texas prison system for safety and order are insatiable. Two years ago, Texas banned clergy from the execution chamber outright. Under fire, the state overturned the controversial decision this year.
Ramirez was convicted of the 2004 murder of a Corpus Christi convenience store employee in a drug theft that grossed $ 1.25. He arouses little sympathy from the public.
This case, however, does not concern Ramirez. It is about protecting individual constitutional rights and the duty of government to act in a minimally civilized manner.
Despite the reprieve, Ramirez will eventually die on a stretcher in the Death Chamber, after a lethal charge of pentobarbital in his veins.
A more dignified death for Ramirez would also not erase the myriad of practical problems with capital punishment: exorbitant legal fees, unfair racial and geographic disparities, failure to deter violent crime and the risk of the execution of innocent people, for to name a few.
Yet to allow him a final prayer or blessing, comforted by the touch of a human hand, as he prepares to meet his Creator, is not unreasonable. Texas should allow it, but the Supreme Court rules on the constitutional issue.
The actions of Texas prison officials, whether indifferent or terribly cruel, are governed by a dreadful premise: the state does not need to recognize the humanity of death row inmates, or even their right to redemption. .
Texas may be the most barbaric executioner in the country, but that should come as no relief to any of the other 26 states with death penalty laws, including Pennsylvania. Lone Star State’s excesses expose the perverse logic of capital punishment wherever it exists.