State Prepares to Kill Murderer, Spiritual Leader on Death Row

Ramiro Gonzales has “so much potential”


Ramiro Gonzales, in a clip from the video asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare him (courtesy of Texas Defender Service)

In the last couple of years, death row inmates have begun to include videos in the clemency petitions they submit to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in an effort to get their death sentences commuted to life in prison. Ramiro Gonzales presented a powerful one earlier this month.

Gonzales has already faced death once. In July of 2022 he asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to delay his execution for the 2001 murder of Bridget Townsend so he could donate a kidney. The board denied the request. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did stop the execution to consider whether false testimony provided at Gonzales’ trial had prejudiced his verdict. When the court decided it hadn’t, the execution was rescheduled for June 26. Now, Gonzales has submitted a video to BPP requesting that his sentence be commuted to life in prison and discussing how he has changed and what he means to the community on death row.

The video opens with Gonzales describing how his remorse for his murder of Townsend has evolved and how he thinks daily about those hurt by his violence, especially Townsend’s mother. “I took everything that was valuable from her mother, just because of my stupidity, because of what I did, because of my actions, and you can’t give that back,” he said. “So, going through these levels of remorse, the complexity of that, it’s like the depth of what I owe.”

Gonzales’ own mother was only 17 when she left him to be raised by his grandparents on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Growing up, he was abused physically and sexually by different family members. Kate Porterfield, a psychologist who has researched Gonzales’ upbringing, said that Gonzales’ mother and four of her sisters experienced the same abuse in their childhoods.

“All of these young women grew up to attempt suicide, to have substance abuse problems of their own, to have trouble with violence,” Porterfield said. “So Ramiro, as a small boy, is put in a home that has already created generations of trauma.”

“Ramiro, as a small boy, is put in a home that has already created generations of trauma.” – Psychologist Kate Porterfield

Psychologists know that victims of sexual abuse often blame themselves for what they suffer and come to believe they are worthless. They may develop substance abuse problems, give up on school, and become violent. Gonzales did all of these things. As a teenager, he stopped attending classes, stayed up for weeks on methamphetamines, and repeatedly considered suicide. The jurors at his trial learned nothing about these struggles before sentencing him to death.

Gonzales became deeply religious after entering death row in 2006. He had already been counseling and comforting men for years when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice established the Faith-Based Program in 2021 to rehabilitate death row inmates. Leaders of the program say Gonzales is loved and respected by inmates and guards and would make a great field minister in the program if the Board of Pardons and Paroles sees fit to commute his sentence.

A group of evangelical leaders also wants to see Gonzales’ life spared. “We ask that you grant clemency to Ramiro, a wonderfully changed man, and allow him to live out his life serving others,” they wrote to the Board of Pardons and Paroles earlier this month, noting that Gonzales has a unique ability to connect with others.

Regular readers of this coverage know it’s extremely unlikely the board will vote to spare Gonzales. For his part, Gonzales seems to have achieved that strange serenity that comes to many death row inmates as their final moments draw near. “In the 13th chapter of Corinthians, it closes with faith, hope, and love,” Gonzales said. “'Now abides faith, hope, and love – these three.’ I’m on death row, but I still have faith. I still have hope. And I can still love everybody around me.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

TDCJ, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Death Watch, Ramiro Gonzales

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