Texas court halts execution after questions raised over expert testimony

A Texas appeals court has temporarily stayed the execution of Ramiro Gonzales, who was sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping and killing an associate named Bridget Townsend in 2001 when they were both 18 years old.

Gonzales, now 39, was due to die by lethal injection on Wednesday before the court intervened.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held Monday that Gonzales had made a convincing initial showing that an expert who testified at his sentencing hearing gave “false” information about how much future danger he might pose, a key part of the legal basis for a death sentence

During the punishment phase of the 2006 trial, a psychiatrist named Edward Gripon claimed that those who commit sexual assault have an “extremely high” recidivism rate, up to 80 percent. Gonzales’ attorneys argued that subsequent reviews suggested there was no evidentiary basis for this figure.

“Such false testimony could have affected the jury’s response to the question of future dangerousness in punishment,” the appeals court wrote in its decision Monday.

The 39-year-old’s case and Gripon’s growing doubts about his role in it were the subject of a Marshall Project report co-edited this week by the independent.

The Texas appellate court sent the case back to the trial level for further review.

In June, Gonzales appealed to Texas Governor Greg Abbott to stay the execution and give the 39-year-old man time to donate a kidney to a stranger in what his lawyers called “his efforts to atone for his crimes.”

Lawyers for the death row prisoner said they had identified two potential donors, including a Washington cancer survivor with a rare blood type who had spent years waiting for a transplant.

“It seems almost impossible, but God moves in mysterious ways,” wrote Judy Frith, the potential recipient, in a letter sent to the governor along with Gonzales’s. “Whether or not Mr. Gonzales is able to donate to me, I cannot stress enough what a precious gift he would be giving someone if he were to allow Mr. Gonzales the opportunity to donate his kidney.”

The state corrections department, which allowed Gonzales to be evaluated for possible kidney donation, said in July that it would not allow the transplant to go ahead due to the impending execution, telling CNN last week that it might introduce a “timeline.” uncertain, possibly interfering with the court-ordered execution date.”

the independent has contacted the state department of corrections for comment.

An organ donation from death row is not the only unorthodox part of the Ramiro Gonzales case.

Gripon, the psychiatrist, concluded that Gonzales had signs of “antisocial personality disorder” after spending three hours with him, a determination that would influence his testimony during the death penalty trial.

The doctor would later tell The Marshall Project that he had his doubts about that diagnosis and about the overall accuracy and usefulness of predictions about future dangerousness, saying he wasn’t sure he had any unique insights compared to “anyone with similar intelligence and the same facts”.

Despite its eventual misgivings, such predictions were used numerous times in Texas, which has executed four times as many people as any other state in modern US history, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

One psychiatrist, James Grigson of Dallas, even earned the nickname “Dr. Death” and he claimed that he could make “100 percent absolute” predictions that those on trial would kill again.

Ramiro Gonzales confessed to the murder and said a visit from a “cowboy minister” in prison inspired him to change his life.

In prison, Gonzales took yoga classes, earned the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree from Bible college, and began writing sermons for the prison radio station.

“How can I bring life back? This is probably one of the closest things to doing that,” he told the Marshall Project. “I don’t want to say he’s saving someone’s life, but he’s keeping someone from dying.”

The Texas Attorney General’s Office could challenge the appellate court’s decision.

the independent has come to the office to comment.

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