(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the execution in Texas of a convicted killer scheduled to die later in the evening, ruling that a lower court judge should consider the man’s request to have a spiritual adviser present.
Ruben Gutierrez, 43, had been set to die at 6 p.m. CDT (7 p.m. EDT) at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville for the 1998 murder of an elderly mobile-home park owner during a robbery.
The Supreme Court granted an emergency petition by lawyers for Gutierrez for a stay of execution over a new Texas Department of Criminal Justice policy banning chaplains and other religious advisers in the death chamber. Gutierrez is Catholic.
“The District Court should promptly determine, based on whatever evidence the parties provide, whether serious security problems would result if a prisoner facing execution is permitted to choose the spiritual adviser the prisoner wishes to have in his immediate presence during the execution,” the top court said in issuing the stay.
The court gave attorneys for the state until Thursday to file a response to the petition by Gutierrez’s attorneys.
Gutierrez was convicted in 1999 of orchestrating a robbery of 85-year-old Escolastica Cuellar Harrison after her nephew told him she kept some $600,000 in cash hidden in her Brownsville mobile home.
According to court documents, Gutierrez went to Harrison’s home on Sept. 5, 1998, with two accomplices, Rene Garcia and Pedro Garza. There they stabbed Harrison to death with a screwdriver and made off with $56,000.
Gutierrez was sentenced to death following his conviction.
Garcia is serving a life sentence. Garza fled after he was released on bond while awaiting trial and remains a fugitive.
Gutierrez would be the seventh inmate to be executed in the United States and the second in Texas in 2020, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)