On Death Row in Texas, a Last Request: A Prayer and ‘Human Contact’

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Scheduled for execution connected Sept. 8, John Henry Ramirez is suing to person his Baptist pastor laic hands connected him arsenic helium dies.

John Henry Ramirez is scheduled to beryllium  executed successful  September. He wants his Baptist pastor to laic  hands connected  him arsenic  helium  dies. “It would conscionable  beryllium  comforting,” helium  said.
Credit...Matthew Busch for The New York Times

Aug. 30, 2021Updated 4:31 p.m. ET

LIVINGSTON, Texas — John Henry Ramirez and Dana Moore some punctuation the aforesaid transition of the Bible erstwhile they explicate their friendship. “I was sick and you looked aft me,” Jesus says successful the publication of Matthew, describing God ushering righteous radical into eternal life. “I was successful situation and you came to sojourn me.”

Mr. Moore, the pastor of Second Baptist Church successful Corpus Christi, has been visiting Mr. Ramirez successful situation for much than 4 years, driving 300 miles northwest to the Allan B. Polunsky Unit successful Livingston, wherever Mr. Ramirez has been connected decease enactment for much than a decade. The 2 men speech astir religion and life, speaking done telephone handsets connected either broadside of a heavy Plexiglas model successful the prison’s visiting room.

Mr. Ramirez, 37, often teases Mr. Moore astir his “short and sweet” prayers, and they sermon caller sermons astatine the church, wherever Mr. Ramirez became a subordinate a fewer years ago. Mr. Moore had to crook the rules to judge his exertion successful absentia, but determination was nary question for him that Mr. Ramirez was qualified.

Now, the men are readying 1 past meeting, successful the decease enclosure wherever the authorities of Texas plans to execute Mr. Ramirez by lethal injection connected Sept. 8. And Mr. Ramirez is asking for thing unusual: He wants Mr. Moore to laic hands connected him astatine the infinitesimal of his death.

“It would conscionable beryllium comforting,” Mr. Ramirez said successful an interrogation astatine the prison. He wants Mr. Moore not conscionable to observe arsenic the fatal cause cocktail snakes done an IV enactment into his limb — “poisoned consecutive up to death,” arsenic helium enactment it — but to commune retired loud, and clasp his hand, oregon interaction his enarthrosis oregon foot.

On Aug. 10, Mr. Ramirez filed a national suit against situation officials for denying his request. The suit claims that the state’s refusal to let Mr. Moore to laic hands connected him burdens his escaped workout of religion astatine the nonstop infinitesimal “when astir Christians judge they volition either ascend to eden oregon descend to hellhole — successful different words, erstwhile spiritual acquisition and signifier is astir needed.”

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Credit...Matthew Busch for The New York Times

The 2 men person ne'er touched; their full narration has been conducted done Plexiglas. When they pray, they property their palms unneurotic connected the window. Mr. Ramirez seldom experiences immoderate benignant of carnal interaction connected decease row, different than glancing interaction with guards erstwhile they spot handcuffs astir his wrists. He greets his visitors with a fist bump connected the window, soma to integrative to flesh. “We person nary quality interaction backmost here,” helium said.

As a Baptist, Mr. Moore does not judge successful a ceremonial sacrament that indispensable beryllium performed to nonstop specifications connected the brink of death, similar the Catholic signifier of administering the past rites. But helium said interaction is an integral, integrated portion of his work. When idiosyncratic comes guardant successful a religion work for a idiosyncratic prayer, oregon erstwhile helium visits a dying idiosyncratic successful the hospital, helium holds the person’s hand.

In an affidavit submitted with Mr. Ramirez’s lawsuit, Mr. Moore cited the miraculous healing that Jesus is recorded to person performed done touching the sick, and however helium gathered children into his arms to bless them.

“The powerfulness of quality interaction is much than conscionable physical,” helium said successful an interview. “It’s the mode God created us.”

Mr. Ramirez was condemned for stabbing to decease a Corpus Christi antheral named Pablo Castro successful 2004. Drunk and high, Mr. Ramirez was driving astir with 2 pistillate friends looking for radical to rob erstwhile they came upon Mr. Castro taking retired the trash astatine a convenience store wherever helium worked. Mr. Ramirez stabbed him 29 times. Prosecutors described the onslaught arsenic a robbery that netted $1.25.

Mr. Ramirez evaded instrumentality enforcement for 3 years, fleeing to Mexico and starting a household there. He was captured adjacent the borderline successful 2007, convicted and sentenced to death.

Mr. Ramirez takes work for the crime, which helium calls a “heinous murder.” He declined to property his actions to his puerility marked by abuse, instability and poverty. “There’s a batch of radical that unrecorded similar that and adjacent worse, and they didn’t extremity up connected decease row,” helium reflected. “They didn’t extremity up becoming murderers.”

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Credit...Matthew Busch for The New York Times

Mr. Ramirez has studied a assortment of religions during his clip successful prison, from Catholicism to Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He met Mr. Moore, the Baptist pastor, done 2 longtime religion members who had been visiting done a situation ministry; Mr. Ramirez considers the sisters his godmothers. Aspects of Jewish beliefs besides resonated with him, and helium present considers himself a Messianic Jew, who believes that Jesus is the Messiah.

But helium rejects the stereotype of the jailhouse conversion. He ever believed successful God, helium said, adjacent astatine his lowest moments. “There are a batch of radical that judge there’s a God and conscionable don’t unrecorded right,” helium said. “I conscionable wasn’t obeying, I wasn’t trying to beryllium good.”

Texas’ attack to spiritual advisers astatine executions has oscillated implicit the people of Mr. Ramirez’s clip connected decease row. The authorities allowed lone prison-employed chaplains to beryllium contiguous successful the decease enclosure earlier 2019. But it employed lone Christian and Muslim clerics arsenic chaplains. When a Buddhist inmate named Patrick Murphy argued that the authorities had violated his rights by not providing entree to a Buddhist chaplain, the Supreme Court agreed.

But Justice Brett Kavanaugh offered the authorities an retired successful a concurring opinion. Texas had 2 options, helium wrote. It could supply a Buddhist chaplain for Mr. Murphy, oregon it could diminution entree to the execution enclosure to each spiritual advisers, including Christians and Muslims. Texas took him up connected the suggestion, relegating each spiritual advisers to an reflection country adjacent to the chamber.

This spring, however, aft the Supreme Court stopped different execution implicit the restrictive policy, the bureau changed people again, allowing radical connected decease enactment entree to a spiritual advisor of their choosing.

To advocates for prisoners, the relation of a spiritual counsellor astatine the infinitesimal of decease is profound.

“You uphold the dignity of the quality being, that everyone is worthy much than the worst happening they’ve ever done,” said Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death punishment activistic who has served arsenic a spiritual advisor to six inmates connected their execution days.

In the past moments of life, she said, what she tin connection is her presence. “At the end, it’s ‘Look astatine my face,’” she said. “Everyone other successful that country is determination to termination them.”

That beingness besides generates a motivation obligation, Sister Helen said. Unlike state-employed situation chaplains, extracurricular spiritual advisers tin beryllium an “independent voice,” describing what they spot successful the chamber. “It’s the secrecy and the region and the separation that has allowed the decease punishment to spell connected each this time,” she said.

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Credit...Matthew Busch for The New York Times

In its effect to Mr. Ramirez’s suit, the authorities claims that strict restrictions successful the execution enclosure are a information matter, and that Mr. Ramirez’s petition opens the doorway to ever-more-burdensome spiritual requests.

“Everything surrounding the execution process and the Texas execution protocol is based connected information and security,” said Jeremy Desel, communications manager for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Mr. Ramirez’s lawyer, Seth Kretzer, pushed backmost connected that argument. “You’re successful the astir unafraid installation successful the full situation system,” helium said.

Mr. Ramirez’s plea pits instrumentality and bid against compassion and respect for idiosyncratic faith. These contradictory impulses some person a beardown power successful Texas, said Kent Ryan Kerley, prof and seat of criminology and transgression justness astatine the University of Texas astatine Arlington. “It’s mercy versus justice, which 1 bash they choose?” helium said. “This is simply a cleanable trial case.”

For Mr. Ramirez, it is hard to spot the denial arsenic thing but spiteful. “What volition happen? I’ll person a existent spiritual infinitesimal astatine the constituent of decease and you don’t privation maine to person that?” helium said. “You privation to support that from me, too?”

In a poem helium wrote successful 2018, helium reflected connected his heavy loneliness successful prison:

Comfort maine similar a hug
while I await the last tug.
Of this noose astir my collar
will you announcement erstwhile I holler?

For now, helium awaits his execution successful conscionable implicit a week, oregon a last-minute reprieve. He is acceptable to die, helium said. “I truly bash privation to get the hellhole retired of here,” helium said. “I cognize wherever I’m heading anyways. I cognize what I judge in.”

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