Death Watch: Ruben Gutierrez
The State v. the Federal Court
Ruben Gutierrez's fate remains uncertain. Though the death row inmate was granted a stay on Aug. 22 by Southern District Judge Hilda Tagle, the Texas Attorney General's Office has appealed that decision and filed a motion to vacate Gutierrez's stay in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. His execution date of Sept. 12 remains listed on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website. In its motion to vacate, filed Aug. 27, the A.G's office argues that the federal court lacks the jurisdiction to stay the Brownsville man's execution and therefore "abused its discretion." Though the document is currently sealed, Gutierrez's lawyers responded to the motion on Friday, and the 5th Circuit's ruling is expected to come this week.
Gutierrez has been on death row for nearly two decades, after he was found guilty of killing 85-year-old Escolastica Harrison, the owner of a mobile home park, during a robbery in 1998. Though he's admitted to planning the robbery, Gutierrez maintains he had no hand in Harrison's murder. In July, after a lengthy appeals process – including a nine-year fight for additional DNA testing, which was ultimately denied in April – Gutierrez's lead attorney requested to withdraw representation, citing a lack of trial experience needed to move Gutierrez's case forward.
Tagle approved the request on Aug. 6, and subsequently granted Gutierrez a stay so that his new counsel, from the Federal Defender's Office Capital Habeas Unit, could better acquaint themselves with their client and his case. What happens next is up to the 5th Circuit, but if the state has its way, Gutierrez will be the ninth inmate executed this year.