Friday, June 28, 2024

Texas man executed for 2001 rape and murder of 18-year-old woman

 The 8th Execution of 2024

Texas executed Ramiro Gonzales by lethal injection on June 26, 2024 for a 2001 murder, the state Department of Criminal Justice said, following unsuccessful appeals to the US Supreme Court that argued, in part, he should have been ineligible for the death penalty under state law because he was no longer dangerous, reported CNN.

Gonzales, 41, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2006 for the sexual assault and killing of 18-year-old Bridget Townsend, court records show. His execution was the first of two – the other in Oklahoma – carried out this week in the United States.

Gonzales was pronounced dead at 6:50 p.m., the state criminal justice department said.

The department provided Gonzales’ last statement before he was executed, in which he repeatedly apologized to the Townsend family and said he “never stopped praying” for their forgiveness: “I can’t put into words the pain I have caused y’all, the hurt what I took away that I cannot give back.”

“I hope this apology is enough. I lived the rest of this life for you guys to the best of my ability for restitution, restoration, taking responsibility,” Gonzales said. “I never stopped praying that you would forgive me and that one day I would have this opportunity to apologize.”

During the penalty phase of Gonzales’ trial, jurors were required to find, as they are in all capital cases in Texas, a “probability” Gonzales would continue to “commit criminal acts of violence.” Without this determination, capital defendants in the Lone Star State are not eligible for the death penalty, per state law.

In their appeals to the Supreme Court, Gonzales’ attorneys said his track record these last 18 years shows he was not dangerous, pointing to his commitment to his Christian faith, ministry to others behind bars and his unsuccessful attempts to donate a kidney to a stranger in need.

Additionally, they said the evidence relied upon to make the finding of future dangerousness was false: An expert witness who diagnosed the inmate with antisocial personality disorder relied on recidivism data later found to be incorrect, and he later evaluated Gonzales and walked back his testimony.

In a pair of brief orders Wednesday, the US Supreme Court gave no comment in its denial of Gonzales’ requests. There were no noted dissents.

“We have finally witnessed justice being served,” Townsend’s brother, David, said Wednesday after witnessing Gonzales’ execution, according to the Associated Press. “This day marks the end of a long and painful journey for our family. For over two decades we have endured unimaginable pain and heartache.”

Gonzales’ death “provides us a little bit of peace,” he said. “I do want to say we are not joyous. We are not happy. This is a very, very sad day for everyone all the way around.”

Gonzales had grieved for Townsend and her family, as well as another woman he kidnapped and raped before confessing to Townsend’s killing, his attorneys said Wednesday night in a statement.

“Ramiro knew he took something from this world he could never give back. He lived with that shame every day, and it shaped the person he worked so hard to become,” said the attorneys, Thea Posel and Raoul Schonemann. “If this country’s legal system was intended to encourage rehabilitation, he would be an exemplar.”

In his final statement before execution, Gonzales also thanked his family and friends, along with two officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for “the opportunity to become responsible, to learn accountability and to make good.”

The state of Texas had also opposed Gonzales’ appeals, arguing in part his team had misconstrued the eligibility requirement and contending the question of whether Gonzales would continue to be a threat was not limited to the inmate’s behavior on death row.

Even taking into account his behavior post-conviction, “there’s undoubtedly sufficient evidence to uphold the finding of future dangerousness,” attorneys for the state wrote, pointing to the subsequent kidnapping and rape of another woman and a litany of transgressions he committed while in jail.

“Even if a jury could somehow consider events that had not happened yet, i.e., Gonzales’s behavior on death row, the jury could still have rationally believed Gonzales would be a danger in the future,” they said.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to recommend clemency in a 7-0 vote. Without that recommendation, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott only could have given Gonzales a one-time 30-day reprieve.

In a statement, the Medina County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, said the death penalty is never “taken lightly” in Texas.

“Nothing about an execution is easy. Nothing about losing a loved one to murder is easy,” District Attorney Mark Haby said. “However, it seems to be a fitting end that the defendant was executed on the birthday of the person he killed, Bridget Townsend. May both their souls find peace.”

CNN has reached out to members of Townsend’s family for comment.When Townsend told Gonzales her boyfriend wasn’t home, he went to the house in search of drugs. He stole money, then kidnapped Townsend, tying her hands and feet before driving her to a location near his family’s ranch, the opinion states. There, he raped and fatally shot her, it says.

The case went unsolved for 18 months. Then, while sitting in jail after pleading guilty to the rape of another woman, Gonzales confessed to Townsend’s killing and led authorities to her body.

Gonzales’ execution was the nation’s eighth this year, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization that tracks capital punishment in the US and has in the past been critical of the way it’s administered.

It was followed by the ninth Thursday in Oklahoma, which executed Richard Rojem for the 1984 kidnapping, rape and murder of his 7-year-old stepdaughter, Layla Cummings. Rojem was pronounced dead at 10:16 a.m., the director of the state Department of Corrections confirmed in a statement. The state’s parole board voted last week against recommending clemency for Rojem, who had claimed he was innocent, according to CNN affiliate KOCO.

Rojem, like Gonzales, was the second person executed in his respective state so far in 2024, according to the center’s data. By this time last year, 13 inmates had been put to death in the US, the data shows.

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