DA, others appeal stay of execution of death row inmate

Ruben Gutierrez

Cameron County officials have appealed a stay of execution granted in the case of death row inmate Ruben Gutierrez, Jr., who was set to be executed by lethal injection on June 16.

Gutierrez, 43, was sentenced to death in 1999 after a jury found him guilty of the murder of 85-year-old mobile home park owner Escolastica Harrison.

Harrison did not trust the banks; prosecutors argued that Gutierrez and two accomplices planned to steal more than $600,000 she kept hidden inside her home, stabbing her to death when the robbery didn’t go according to plan.

U.S. Senior District Judge Hilda Tagle signed an order on May 9 staying Gutierrez’s execution on the grounds that Gutierrez will likely succeed on the merits of at least one of his DNA or execution chamber claims.

Court records showed that prosecutors at the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office appealed U.S. Senior District Judge Hilda Tagle’s May 9 order staying Gutierrez’s execution the same day.

Gutierrez’s attorneys seek to have evidence from the crime scene currently in the possession of the Brownsville Police Department tested for DNA. They argue that a COVID-19 outbreak at TDCJ’s Huntsville Unit puts the execution team, the prison population, and the public in danger, as well, and that the department won’t allow Gutierrez a Christian chaplain inside the execution chamber.

In a statement on Thursday, Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz expressed hope that the Fifth Circuit will vacate the stay. “Today, my office, along with the Texas Attorney General, and the Brownsville Police filed an appeal to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans seeking to vacate the stay of execution issued by the Federal District Court for Ruben Gutierrez. If the 5th Circuit grants the relief we week, the stay of Gutierrez’s June 16, 2020 execution would move forward as planned,” he said.

“Our hope is that the 5th Circuit will see that Mr. Gutierrez’s claims are nothing more than a dilatory tactic. He is an unapologetic murderer that continues to abuse the process to delay justice for the family of Mrs. Escolastica Harrison.”