Death row inmate’s execution scheduled for this evening

The execution of death row inmate Ruben Gutierrez, convicted for murder in the brutal stabbing death of 85-year-old Escolastica Harrison in 1999, is likely to move forward after 6 p.m. today.

Prosecutors with the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office have been locked in a last-minute legal battle with Gutierrez’s attorneys over his execution and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s decision to refuse Gutierrez a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber.

On Monday, Gutierrez filed a petition for writ of certiorari and an application for a stay of execution with the United States Supreme Court. The move came in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision to vacate a stay of execution granted on June 9 by U.S. Senior District Judge Hilda Tagle in Houston, pending the outcome of Gutierrez’s federal habeas proceedings.

In an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops urged the court to rule in Gutierrez’s favor, writing, “TDCJ is not merely making Gutierrez’s religious practice more difficult. It is placing a direct, irrevocable prohibition on his sincere religious exercise, and at the most critical time for such exercise — when the soul is departing this world for the next.”

Just after, a decision came down from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declining to recommend a 90-Day Reprieve of Execution and Commutation of Death Sentence to Lesser Penalty in Gutierrez’s case.

Gutierrez’s attorneys are still fighting. On Monday afternoon, they petitioned Gov. Greg Abbott for a 30-day reprieve, citing disruption and risk caused by COVID-19, the urgency of DNA testing in his case, and the issue of a chaplain in the execution chamber.

On Monday, Kim Kardashian rallied support for Gutierrez on Twitter asking Abbott to test the crime scene DNA. Gutierrez filed numerous appeals to have the evidence taken from both the crime scene and Harrison’s body, currently in the custody of the Brownsville Police Department, submitted for post-conviction DNA testing.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis. V. Saenz stated, “If Ms. Kardashian wants to use her celebrity platform to defend a convicted murderer, that’s her prerogative. As for me, I will use my position to speak for the victim and represent the citizens of Cameron County.”

State prosecutors have repeatedly argued that DNA testing will not necessarily exonerate Gutierrez, citing testimony from his trial and the jury’s decision to convict Gutierrez over 20 years ago, as well as precedent set in previous appeals.

Gutierrez’s attorney Shawn Nolan said last week that TDCJ was testing Gutierrez for COVID, pointing out the irony that the state will not test the evidence but will test Gutierrez for the virus in the weeks preceding his scheduled death.

Saenz and Administrative First Assistant District Attorney Edward Sandoval will travel to Houston Tuesday on the behalf of Harrison’s sister, whose age doesn’t allow her to travel. Saenz visited the woman, one of Escolastica’s last surviving relatives, on Friday to inform her the stay of execution had been overturned. “She was very, very happy,” he said.