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.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Ruben Gutierrez
Death Watch: Supreme Court Halts John Henry Ramirez's Execution Over Religious Freedom Appeal
Death Watch: Supreme Court Halts John Henry Ramirez's Execution Over Religious Freedom Appeal
Court will hear Ramirez's case for pastor's touch during execution this fall

Brant Bingamon, Sept. 24, 2021

2019 Sees Decline in Texas Executions
2019 Sees Decline in Texas Executions
Still, concerns of the fairness and accuracy of the state’s death penalty system remain

Sarah Marloff, Dec. 20, 2019

More by Sarah Marloff
City Acknowledges Its Debt to Sexual Assault Survivors
City Acknowledges Its Debt to Sexual Assault Survivors
Seen and heard

Feb. 4, 2022

Travis County Settles With Sexual Assault Survivors
Travis County Settles With Sexual Assault Survivors
$580,000 settlement reached in three-year legal battle over handling of sexual assault cases

June 25, 2021


Ruben Gutierrez, Death Watch

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle