June 9 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Tuesday granted a stay to a Texas death row inmate who was scheduled to be executed next week.
U.S. District Court Judge Hilda Tagel granted a stay of execution to Ruben Gutierrez, 42, after his attorneys have requested additional DNA testing in the case and challenged a Texas Department of Criminal Justice statute prohibiting all religious or spiritual advisors from entering the execution chamber.
"The Court concludes that Gutierrez has made a showing of likelihood of success on the merits of at least one of his DNA or execution-chamber claims," said Tagle.
Gutierrez was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of trailer park owner Escolastica Harrison, who was 82. He was 20 years old at the time of the murder.
He has requested a post-conviction DNA test of nail scrapings and loose hairs taken from the victim, a shirt belonging to a family member of Harrison and other clothing items, saying testing would prove his innocence.
Last week, attorneys for Guttierrez filed a motion stating it would be "irresponsible and against the public's interest" to conduct the necessary investigation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attorneys have also argued that the state's refusal to allow a Christian chaplain to accompany him into the execution chamber is a violation of his First Amendment rights.