A man accused of killing an 85-year-old woman from Brownsville will live on until US courts can sort an issue tied to religious freedom.

The inmate, identified as Ruben Gutierrez, was scheduled to be executed on Oct. 27 for the death of Escolastica Harrison. The 44-year-old maintains his innocence although prosecutors stand by their belief that he wanted to steal over $600,000 that the elderly woman had hidden in her home.

However, the date of his execution has been temporarily put on hold due to an issue that has yet to be resolved by the Supreme Court. This is in line with claims that the state is violating the religious freedom of Gutierrez by not allowing a spiritual adviser to lay hands on him at the time of his lethal injection, the Associated Press reported.

A judge granted the request made on Wednesday, Sept. 15, by the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office to vacate the execution date. It appears that a lot hinges on the US Supreme Court’s upcoming review of similar religious freedom issues of another inmate named John Henry Ramirez.

“As the Ramirez matter may be dispositive of any issue related to Gutierrez’s religious liberty claim, it is in the best interest of the state, the family of the victim of Gutierrez’s crimes, that his execution be delayed,” prosecutors said in a motion filed on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Gutierrez was set to be executed in June 2020 but the Supreme Court granted him a stay because his spiritual adviser was not allowed to accompany him in the death chamber.

As far as the 44-year-old is concerned, a priest needs to touch his shoulder, pray out loud and perform last rites before he would be executed.

The presence of spiritual advisers in the death chamber is a long-standing issue and has yet to be resolved. All that could be ironed out on Nov. 1 when the Ramirez case is sorted out.

The Supreme Court has delayed several cases that involve the requests for spiritual advisers. Rulings were made in the past but the problem is consistency, marring the manner of carrying out executions. As per Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, this needs to be settled once and for all – possibly on Nov. 1.

lethal injection
Larry Eugene Mann was put to death in Florida on Wednesday for the murder of a young girl in 1980, on a gurney not unlike this one in San Quentin, Calif. Creative Commons

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