Federal judge dismisses lawsuit filed by Cameron County death row inmate

March 11—A ruling by U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera Jr. dismissing a federal lawsuit filed by death row inmate Ruben Gutierrez could mean his execution date could be nearing, but his lawyers could file another lawsuit to delay or halt it.

Olvera on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed on Gutierrez’s behalf that claimed his civil rights were violated because a member of the clergy could not be with him when he was put to death.

A Cameron County jury in 1999 found Gutierrez guilty of capital murder in the 1998 death of Escolastica Harrison, 85, in her trailer home.

In his decision, Olvera writes that Gutierrez did not identify anything in his proposed proposal that is not covered by what the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it respects.

“Gutierrez did not indicate any accommodation that Director Lumpkin did not promise to carry out. The change in the policy of TDCJ to allow the clergy in the execution chamber and the assurance of Director Lumpkin that the State provides to Gutierrez’s accommodation has resolved the controversy raised by the instant lawsuit.” Olvera writes.

According to the records, Gutierrez tried to steal $600,000 from Harrison that he had hidden in his home.

An autopsy report indicates that a screwdriver was used to kill the woman. She had been stabbed several times in the facial area. His body was found in the bedroom of his trailer home.

Prosecutors argued that Gutierrez and two accomplices planned to rob Harrison of her savings, killing the woman when the robbery did not go according to plan.

Gutierrez has maintained his innocence, pursuing multiple appeals at the state and federal levels seeking to test crime scene evidence for DNA.

All his appeals were denied.

Shawn Nolan, head of the Capital Habeas Unit for the Federal Community Defender’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who is one of Gutierrez’s attorneys, said Saturday that although this lawsuit deals with the right of Gutierrez to have a spiritual advisor with him if he was executed. .

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said Olvera’s decision means authorities are one step closer to finding justice for Harrison and his family.

“We welcome the court’s decision. The judge’s decision finding Gutierrez’s claim moot is yet another example of a convicted murderer’s manipulation of the criminal justice system for his own benefit,” Saenz said. “Here it is 24 years later after a jury of his peers found him guilty and sentenced him to death for the cold-blooded and gruesome murder of Escolastica Harrison and justice has yet to be served and has yet to be served. held responsible”.

In December 2022, Gutierrez’s lawyers filed a motion seeking a temporary or permanent injunction to halt his execution until it could be done in a way that would respect his civil rights.

“Basically, Mr. Gutierrez disputes the defendants’ assertion that TDCJ officials provided relief beyond that which Gutierrez requested in this lawsuit or in any prison grievance and beyond the basis for the stay of Gutierrez’s execution. The relief that Mr. Gutierrez has always sought is a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from executing Mr. Gutierrez until they can do so in a manner that does not violate his rights ,” reads part of Gutierrez’s response.

The State of Texas responded in January of this year.

“Gutierrez’s religious requests were determined to be feasible and were unconditionally approved as evidence by the sworn testimony of the Director of the Division of Correctional Institutions TDCJ,” the response read.

On August 25, 2021, Gutierrez’s lawyers filed a lawsuit against Byran Collier, executive director of the TDCJ; Bobby Lumpkin, director of the TDCJ Division of Correctional Institutions; and Dennis Crowley, TDCJ warden.

“Mr. Gutierrez’s request through TDJC administrative channels required a reasonable accommodation – to have a Catholic spiritual advisor (a) pray aloud, (b) perform Viaticum, and (c) touch his shoulder in the room d “execution until he was declared dead. – was denied,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit seeks relief so that Gutierrez is executed in a manner that does not violate his religious beliefs and his First Amendment rights.

Gutierrez remains on death row and is housed at the Polunksy Unit in Livingston, Texas.

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