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Will the Supreme Court Kill The Death Penalty This Term?

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Will the U.S. Supreme Court add the fate of the death penalty to a term already fraught with hot-button issues like partisan gerrymandering, warrantless surveillance, and a host of contentious First Amendment disputes?
That’s the hope of an ambitious Supreme Court petition seeking to abolish the ultimate punishment. But it runs headlong into the fact that only two justices have squarely called for a reexamination of the death penalty’s constitutionality.
Abel Hidalgo challenges Arizona’s capital punishment system—which sweeps too broadly, he says, because the state’s “aggravating factors” make 99 percent of first-degree murderers death-eligible—as well as the death penalty itself, arguing it’s cruel and unusual punishment.
He’s represented by former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal—among the most successful Supreme Court practitioners last term. Hidalgo also has the support of several outside groups who filed amicus briefs on his behalf, notably one from a group including Ari…

Texas: Execution halted for man convicted in Corpus Christi stabbing death

John Ramirez
2 days before death row inmate John Ramirez was scheduled to be executed, a federal district court in Corpus Christi halted the execution.

A federal district court in Corpus Christi halted the execution of Texas death row inmate John Ramirez on Tuesday, 2 days before he was set to die.

Ramirez, 32, was convicted in 2009 in the stabbing death of Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi during a 2004 robbery. Castro was stabbed 29 times, and Ramirez wasn't arrested until more than 3 years later when he was found near the Mexican border, according to court documents. He was set for execution on Thursday.

The stay comes after 2 motions were filed last week by federal death penalty attorney Greg Gardner, even though he had no previous experience in the case. The court granted the motions to stop the execution and grant Ramirez new counsel because, the motion claimed, Ramirez's previous attorney had failed to file a clemency petition.

The state has appealed the court's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which has the ability to overrule the lower court's decision before Thursday and reverse the stay.

On July 19, 2004, Ramirez and 2 women, Angela Rodriguez and Christina Chavez, were driving around in a van looking for people to rob for drug money when they spotted Castro taking the trash out from the convenience store where he worked, according to an opinion by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Rodriguez and Ramirez approached Castro, and Ramirez slashed his throat and repeatedly stabbed him in his head, neck, shoulders and back, according to court records.

Rodriguez went through his pockets and came back to the van with $1.25, according to Chavez's testimony. The 2 woman were found the night of the murder appearing high and drunk, records stated.

Rodriguez is currently serving a life sentence for murder, and Chavez pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and got a 25-year sentence, according to prison records. She became eligible for parole in January.

Ramirez evaded arrest until Feb. 20, 2008, when he was found near the Texas-Mexico border. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death; he's been on death row for almost 8 years.

In the recent motions filed Friday, Ramirez claimed his previous appellate attorney abandoned him by not filing a clemency petition, a motion commonly filed in capital cases to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the governor asking for a stay of execution or commutation to life in prison.

About 3 weeks after receiving an execution date, Ramirez wrote his previous attorney, Michael Gross, saying he wanted Gross to remove himself from his case so he could seek new representation. Gross complied, and didn't file a clemency petition, but neither did anyone else.

Attorney General Ken Paxton argued for Texas that Gross was simply following Ramirez's instructions, but the court ruled Gross was still responsible because he hadn't been replaced. After Ramirez's godmother called Gardner, he filed the motions.

Paxton said the 2 lawyers were engaging in "gamesmanship," noting that both were involved in another death penalty case that was recently stayed. The court said a hearing did not suggest any such tactics.

It is the 1st stay of execution in Texas this year, stopping what would have been the state's 3rd execution. Another execution is set for next Tuesday for Tilon Carter.

Source: Texas Tribune, February 1, 2017


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