DNA Could Prove Ruben Gutierrez's Innocence
On June 16, 2020, just one hour and 10 minutes before the State of Texas was scheduled to execute 43-year-old Ruben Gutierrez for the 1998 murder of an 85-year-old Brownsville woman, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and granted Gutierrez, a Catholic, a reprieve so that a lower court could consider his request to allow a chaplain in the execution chamber.
This newspaper, along with the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and others, had called on the Supreme Court to stay Gutierrez’s execution on the grounds that denying his request for clergy present in the execution chamber was a violation of his First Amendment right to religious liberty and an affront to human dignity. “Whatever Gutierrez’s fate,” we wrote in an editorial published just hours before his scheduled execution by lethal injection, “we believe that to deny the condemned the right to have a religious leader present is to deny their humanity.” We stand by that editorial, and see no reason why anyone should be denied the presence of a spiritual adviser at the time of death. Up until April 2, 2019, when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice changed its longstanding policy of allowing clergy into the execution chamber, Gutierrez’s request would have been routinely granted. But on that date the TDCJ announced a new policy saying that consulting with a chaplain before entering the chamber is sufficient to honor a death-row inmate’s religious rights. We disagree. And continue to call on the TDCJ to reverse this cruel policy. Yet, from the start, this case has been about more than whether Gutierrez should have clergy present at the time of his execution. It has also been about whether physical evidence collected at the crime scene should — after more than 20 years — finally be given a DNA test.