Condemned Cameron County inmate’s bid for new DNA testing denied again

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Ruben Gutierrez

A federal appellate court has again denied a 46-year-old Cameron County man’s attempt to secure post-conviction DNA testing.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling on Thursday denying Ruben Gutierrez’s petition seeking the testing, which he has consistently claimed would show that he is innocent.

A jury convicted Gutierrez in 1999 of capital murder for murdering 85-year-old Escolastica Harrison in her trailer home on Sept. 5, 1998.

Gutierrez and two men had sought to rob Harrison of about $600,000 in cash they believed she had in her home. Harrison did not trust banks.

Harrison was hit repeatedly and stabbed multiple times in the head. The men fled the residence with around $56,000.

“Since 2011, Gutierrez’s efforts to secure postconviction DNA testing have been denied in state and federal court,” the ruling stated. “In this Section 1983 case, the district court accepted this claim that a particular limitation in Texas’s DNA testing statute was unconstitutional. We conclude that Gutierrez had no standing to make this claim.”

The appellate court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded it to the district court to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

This is just one of many efforts Gutierrez has made to secure post-conviction DNA testing that followed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denying his appeal in 2008.

Gutierrez had sought DNA testing on multiple pieces of evidence, including a blood sample taken from Harrison; a shirt belonging to her nephew that had blood on it; several blood samples from within the home; nail scrapings from Harrison; and a loose hair recovered from Harrison’s finger.

A state court denied this request.

In 2010, Gutierrez filed another motion in state court seeking DNA testing.

“In his motion, Gutierrez acknowledged being one of the three men involved in the robbery of Harrison,” the ruling stated. “He claimed the DNA evidence would show he was not one of the two individuals who entered the victim’s home — and by extension, would show by a preponderance of evidence that jurors would not have convicted him of capital murder or sentenced him to death.

“The trial judge denied the motion.”

In 2011, Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed that ruling.

Following that development, Gutierrez then moved to the federal courts in his pursuit of the DNA testing, but he was denied.

“Over the next few years, Gutierrez continued to seek DNA testing,” the ruling stated. “In June 2019, the state district court initially granted his motion for DNA testing but withdrew the order a few days later and denied the motion.”

In 2020, Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed a ruling against Gutierrez.

Gutierrez then again sought relief in federal court, which on Thursday, the federal appellate court denied.

An execution date has not yet been scheduled.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said in a Friday afternoon statement that he hopes this clears the way for the jury’s sentence to be carried out.

“Yet again Guiterrez’s effort to delay the administration of justice has failed. My hope is that this ruling from the Fifth Circuit will clear the way for the Cameron County jury’s verdict to finally be carried out and justice for Mrs. Harrison finally served.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from Saenz, the district attorney.