June 15 (UPI) -- Lawyers for a Texas death row inmate scheduled to die on Tuesday asked the governor to issue a reprieve in his case after a federal appeals court vacated a stay of his execution.
The defense team for Ruben Gutierrez asked Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a 30-day reprieve in the case, citing an ongoing call for new DNA testing, disruption related to the COVID-19 pandemic and disputes over allowing a chaplain to enter the execution chamber.
Gutierrez, 42, was convicted in the 1998 murder of trailer park owner Escolastica Harrison, but has sought testing of nail scrapings and loose hair taken from the victim, a shirt belonging to a family member of Harrison and other clothing items.
"Mr. Gutierrez has always maintained that he did not kill Escolastica Harrison, a claim he expects DNA testing will support. We ask that you grant a 30-day reprieve so that testing may occur," the request read.
Gutierrez's attorneys said that prison conditions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have "deprived Mr. Gutierrez of his right to counsel" by hampering their ability to prepare a clemency application and other late-stage litigation.
They also noted that the Huntsville prison, where the execution is to occur, has high rates of COVID-19 and puts Guttirerrez's family, religious adviser and any state witnesses at risk of exposure to the virus.
Further, the letter continued to challenge a Texas Department of Criminal Justice statute that prohibits all religious or spiritual advisers from entering the execution chamber, stating that Gutierrez is a devout Catholic who feels a personal and faith-based desire to "have spiritual aid during his execution."
"We ask that you grant a 30-day reprieve so that TDCJ may be given time to revise its policy and return to its longstanding practice of allowing a chaplain in the chamber," it stated.
The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has filed an amicus brief that supports Gutierrez's petition to have a Catholic chaplain accompany him into the execution chamber.
A federal court last week issued a stay for his execution, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Friday vacated the stay, saying Gutierrez failed to show likelihood of success on his claims.