The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the execution of a man on death row on Wednesday because his desire to have his pastor lay hands on him and say prayers as he died was not fulfilled.
The Supreme Court’s order said:
The application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is granted. The motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the petition for a writ of certiorari are granted. The Clerk is directed to establish a briefing schedule that will allow the case to be argued in October or November 2021.
In the ruling, the high court revealed that the case would be argued and heard later this year.
The inmate was convicted of murdering a 46-year-old man named Pablo Castro who worked at a convenience store in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2004. Castro had nine children and had worked at the store for over ten years when he was murdered.
As reported by Politico, “Prosecutors say [the inmate] stabbed Castro 29 times during a series of robberies in which the inmate and two women sought money following a three-day drug binge. [He] fled to Mexico but was arrested three and a half years later.”
The convict’s lawyer, Seth Kretzer, said that in refusing to allow the inmate to have his pastor touch him and say prayers during his execution, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was going against the man’s First Amendment rights to practice his religion.
“It is hostile toward religion, denying religious exercise at the precise moment it is most needed: when someone is transitioning from this life to the next,” Kretzer reportedly said in court papers.
The Supreme Court’s order goes against previous rulings from lower courts.
“[The Texas Department of Criminal Justice] has a compelling interest in maintaining an orderly, safe, and effective process when carrying out an irrevocable, and emotionally charged, procedure,” U.S. District Judge David Hittner ruled last week, according to the Texas Tribune.
The district judge noted that TDCJ “will accommodate [the inmate’s] religious beliefs by giving [him] access to his pastor on the day of execution and allowing him to stand nearby during the execution.”
Dana Moore, the pastor at Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, who became a spiritual adviser to the man over the past several years, wrote about the situation in an affidavit filed in court last month.
“I understand that I will be able to stand in the same room with John during his execution, but I will not be able to physically touch him,” Moore wrote. “I need to be in physical contact with [the inmate] during the most stressful and difficult time of his life in order to give him comfort.”
The execution of the man in question has been called off two times before due to a change in attorney and the coronavirus pandemic.
The victim’s son, Aaron, recently spoke with KRIS 6 News in Corpus Christi about the execution delays.
“Honestly, if he wants a priest to bless him before he’s sent off, by all means, go ahead. That doesn’t affect me one bit. What affects me is why this process continues to get delayed time and time again. He is clearly taking the Department of Justice for a two-a-ride and they’re paying his fare,” said Castro.