The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month in favor of John Henry Ramirez – Texas cannot ban spiritual advisers from being in the execution chamber, praying over, or touching prisoners as they are put to death. Now, in a rare move that surprised many, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez has moved to withdraw the death warrant his own office had requested just days earlier as part of a motion to set a new execution date for Ramirez.
Mark Gonzalez spoke to the Texas Standard, explaining how a separate execution case made him rethink his responsibilities in this one. Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: I think a lot of people are wondering, why do this? Why the sudden and rather unexpected reversal.
Mark Gonzalez: I don’t think it’s pretty sudden for me. It may be sudden for some of the individuals out there, even in my own county, or even other people around Texas, saying, ‘hey, what the heck’s going on there in Nueces County?’
But for quite some time, I’ve been against the death penalty. I didn’t start out that way when I took office, but today that’s where I’m at in my journey and in my education, learning about the way the death penalty is actually carried out. And so I am against the death penalty and I won’t be seeking the death penalty. I think it’d be pretty hypocritical of me to actually set a date of execution. And so I realized that I don’t have to do that. And so I wasn’t going to be a part of it. And if the next guy who takes office when I’m out, or long gone and they choose to do that, then that’s on them.
You’re not running for reelection?
Was it the Supreme Court’s decision, or something in that ruling that made you feel like, wait a minute, I’m going to withdraw this death penalty request?
No, not at all. I hadn’t been following that case too closely. I mean, you hear about it on the news or radio or social media. And the other case, which is going on, to our south, Miss Lucio, has been kind of a case that has brought some attention. And based on that case, I was like, maybe the DA doesn’t have to ask for the data execution, and that’s when it clicked like a light for me. And so I just decided that I wasn’t going to ask for that date.
We should point out. Melissa Lucio is someone whose upcoming execution is the subject of a lot of protests, not just in Texas, but nationwide. And so it sounds to me like perhaps that tweaked your conscience somewhat.
It really did. It brought attention to something that has never been brought attention to, at least here in South Texas. And so there’s some real question regarding some of the details surrounding her case in Mr. Ramirez’ case, there’s no question. He’s guilty. He did what he did. He’s acknowledged it. He’s shown remorse. It’s still up to me to ask for that date of execution. And I just decided that I wouldn’t be a part of it.
As you’re probably aware, members of the victim’s family are very upset about this. They are not happy with your decision to withdraw this request to move forward with Ramirez’ death sentence. What have you said to them? Have you reached out to them? Have you talked with them?
Initially, we try to reach out to every victim of a crime in whatever case. And this was no different. We tried to get the information or reach out to Mr. Ramirez’ family in our understanding was they didn’t want to hear anything from us. And so we made that decision based on office policy, office practice, and we did what we felt was right. I did what I felt was right.
Would you have done this if you were running for reelection? If you knew that you were going to try to remain in office longer, would you have made this same choice?
Sure, I would have made this choice no matter if I was running for office now or currently seeking reelection. I would have had to do what’s right, and I have to do what I feel is true to myself. And I want to be clear, I think that I should be able to protect myself. I should be able to protect my family. I should be able to protect even third persons. I just don’t feel that the government should have that right to end life. And it’s a weird stance, and I’m sure it’s going to evolve even as I get older, but that’s just where I’m at right now.