Death row inmate’s execution still pending

BROWNSVILLE — A state appeals court Friday dismissed several motions filed by attorneys for death row inmate Ruben Gutierrez, who was set to be executed by lethal injection on June 16. The news means Gutierrez may still be put to death in four days depending on the outcome of a federal appeal seeking to overturn a stay of execution.

Gutierrez, 43, was convicted of murder in the 1998 brutal stabbing death of 85-year-old Escolastica Harrison, a mobile home owner who did not trust the banks and kept $600,000 in cash inside her trailer.

Prosecutors argued Gutierrez and two accomplices planned to rob Harrison of her savings, killing the woman when the theft didn’t go according to plan. Gutierrez has maintained his innocence, pursuing multiple appeals at the state and federal level seeking to have crime scene evidence tested for DNA.

Gutierrez has faced multiple execution dates. Last year, the state planned to execute Gutierrez on Oct. 30 before the process was stayed due to flaws in the execution warrant identified by Gutierrez’s attorneys.

On June 9, U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle issued a stay halting Gutierrez’s execution pending the outcome of Gutierrez’s federal habeas proceedings. The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office announced on Thursday it had appealed the stay at the 5th Circuit in New Orleans and expressed hope the court would vacate Tagle’s ruling.

At the state level, attorneys fighting on Gutierrez’s behalf filed a flurry of motions to halt their client’s execution. According to the Cameron County DA’s office, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said Friday it would be denying and dismissing all of those motions.

Motions filed by Gutierrez’s attorneys included a motion for leave to file a petition for a writ of mandamus; a motion filed in the mandamus proceeding to stay Gutierrez’s execution; a subsequent application for a writ of habeas corpus, a motion filed in the habeas proceeding to stay Gutierrez’s execution; and a free-standing motion to stay Gutierrez’s execution based on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I strongly feel that the decision today (Friday) means the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agrees with my office that Gutierrez has been doing nothing more than engaging in delay tactics to avoid the administration of justice for Mrs. Harrison. Now we wait for a ruling from the 5th Circuit (Federal) to see if justice will be able to finally be served,” said DA Luis V. Saenz in a statement.

Attorneys for Gutierrez on Friday afternoon filed an amicus brief from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops affirming the district court’s stay of execution and urging the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide Gutierrez access to a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber.

Shawn Nolan, a member of Gutierrez’s defense team, said on Friday afternoon he was trying to reach his client over the phone to update him, adding that TDCJ is testing Gutierrez for coronavirus.

“He’s very hopeful that the stay will be kept in place and that we’re eventually going to be able to test the DNA in this case. It seems crazy that they’re testing Mr. Gutierrez for COVID before putting him to death, but the state won’t let us do simple tests,” he said.