Valley death row inmate granted stay of execution

A Court granted a death row inmate’s request for a stay of execution, court records show.

In a Sept. 17 order filed in the Southern District of Texas, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez granted Juan Raul Navarro-Ramirez’s motion for a stay — adopting, in its entirety, the “Report and Recommendation,” order from Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby filed in July, the record states.

Navarro-Ramirez, 35, who has been sitting on death row in Livingston, Texas, for nearly 15 years, was convicted of two counts of murder in December 2004 and given a sentence of death in connection with a failed drug rip against rival gangmembers that left six men dead in January of 2003.

Navarro-Ramirez, and several fellow members of the Tri-City Bombers, wearing law enforcement gear, participated in the robbery of drugs from a rival gang at a stash house in Edinburg. Ultimately, six men were killed, and at least 10 co-defendants arrested in connection with the incident, including Juan Arturo Villarreal Cordova, Robert Garza, Jeffrey Juarez, Reymundo Sauceda, Robert Cantu, Salvador Solis, Juan Miguel Nunez, Juan Ramirez and Jorge Espinosa Martinez.

Originating from the Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo area as a breakdancing crew called the “Tri-City Poppers,” the crew began their criminal enterprise first with petty crimes, and then eventually graduated to drug trafficking, drug rips, and murder.

In 2007, after Navarro-Ramirez filed an appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the state district court’s judgment on the death sentence, on the first count of murder, but reversed the second count of murder on the grounds of double-jeopardy, court notes show.

The following year, in October 2008, the Supreme Court denied the petition for appeal filed by Navarro-Ramirez.

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death penalty Act, AEDPA, Navarro-Ramirez had one full year from the denial of his direct appeal to the Supreme Court, to file a federal petition for a “writ of habeas corpus.”

On July 2, 2009, Navarro-Ramirez filed a state application for the writ.

The trial judge, subsequently, after receiving the briefing from the parties, entered findings of facts and conclusions of law recommending that relief be denied.

Several years later, on Oct. 14, 2015, the Court of Criminal Appeals, adopted the lower court’s recommendation and denied Navarro-Ramirez’s request for relief.

But, on Oct. 23, 2015, Navarro-Ramirez filed a “Chapter 64” motion; for post-conviction DNA testing in state district court which authorizes a motion seeking forensic DNA testing of evidence that was in the possession of the state during trial, but was either not previously subjected to DNA testing, or can be subjected to newer testing techniques.

Nearly two years later, on June 7, 2017, unbeknownst to Navarro-Ramirez, the state trial court had denied his Chapter 64 motion, but the court entered that order under the incorrect case number — and failed to serve the order to Navarro-Ramirez’s post-conviction attorney.

Because Navarro-Ramirez was unaware of this error, he was unable to immediately file an appeal.

Subsequently, the state trial court became aware of the error, and entered a superseding order on Oct. 21, 2018, specifying that the order was intended “to allow (Navarro-Ramirez) an opportunity to appeal the denial of his Chapter 64 motion,” the court record states.

In arguing against Navarro-Ramirez’s request for a stay, counsel for respondent Lorie Davis, the Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, claimed, among other reasons, that the stay would be “improper,” because Navarro-Ramirez’s Chapter 64 motion did not exhaust any claim he had raised in his federal petition, the court documents show.

On July 22, 2019, Ormsby recommended that Navarro-Ramirez’s stay of execution be granted, and administratively closed, and that Navarro-Ramirez be ordered to open this case within 30 days after the Chapter 64 litigation concludes.