Wesley Ruiz was executed in Texas on the evening of February 1, 2023. He was sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of a police officer in 2007. The state and federal courts dismissed final appeals, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to recommend clemency, the state Governor refused to intervene, and the execution went ahead.
NO FURTHER ACTION IS REQUESTED. MANY THANKS TO ALL WHO SENT APPEALS
In 2008, Wesley Ruiz was convicted of fatally shooting a Dallas police officer following a high-speed car chase. The jury convicted him of capital murder, for which the sentence is death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP). To impose a death sentence, the jury must determine that the defendant would likely commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society, even in prison (so-called “future dangerousness”). The prosecution presented an expert who testified about the classification of inmates in the Texas prison system. He wrongly told jurors that after 10 years in prison, Wesley Ruiz could be given a lower, less restrictive classification which could mean that he would be put in the general prison population. In 2005, however, the prison authorities had adopted a new regulation that individuals convicted of capital murder and sentenced to LWOP would never be put in a less restrictive custody than the highly restricted G-3 level at which all such individuals begin their prison sentence. In 2010, in another case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) overturned a death sentence because of the very same error by the same expert. The defendant in question is now serving LWOP.
In Wesley Ruiz’s case, the TCCA decided that his claim had been procedurally defaulted (that is, should have been raised earlier). A linguistic anthropologist who recently reviewed declarations from two of the jurors from the trial concluded that “there is no question that racial bias featured in the jury’s perception of Mr Ruiz as dangerous and would have tainted any decision that required an appraisal of [his future dangerousness]”.
As the execution approached, Wesley Ruiz’s lawyers sought to obtain relief based on prosecutor’s notes from the time of the trial that had recently come to light, which indicated that at least one of the prosecutors had known that the prosecution’s expert had given false evidence at the sentencing. They also raised the evidence of racial bias or stereotyping among the jurors, based on the recent affidavits. On January 27, 2023, a federal judge rejected the petition, deciding that the lawyers had failed to demonstrate “overt racial bias” among jurors at the trial. On 30 January, the TCCA also dismissed the claim of racial bias, not on its merits, but on procedural grounds. The lawyers filed a petition before the US Supreme Court pointing to the “evidence that jurors relied on overtly racist and blatant anti-Hispanic stereotypes in appraising [Wesley Ruiz’s] future dangerousness and in deciding to sentence him to death”. On February 1, the Supreme Court refused to stop the execution and dismissed the petition without comment.
In his final statement, Wesley Ruiz apologized to the family of the police officer he had shot and expressed the hope that his execution would bring them “closure”. Wesley Ruiz was pronounced dead at 6:41pm, 22 minutes after the lethal injection began.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, unconditionally. There have been 1,562 executions in the USA since the US Supreme Court upheld new capital laws in 1976. Texas accounts for 580 of them. There have been four executions so far in 2023, two in Texas, and one each in Oklahoma and Missouri. Between them, these three states are responsible for 50 per cent of all executions in the USA since 1976.