Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Stays Execution of Ramiro Gonzales After Expert Witness Rejects Initial Testimony

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Photo credit at https://www.themarshallproject.org/2022/07/11/this-doctor-helped-send-ramiro-gonzales-to-death-row-now-he-s-changed-his-mind

By Ariel Peterson

AUSTIN, TX – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Ramiro Gonzales a stay of execution this month after an expert witness in his case, psychiatrist Dr. Edward Gripon, re-examined Gonzales and concluded that the testimony he he gave at Gonzales’ trial was wrong. .

This development came two days before Gonzales’ scheduled execution date.

At his trial in 2006, Gonzales was sentenced to death after being convicted of capital murder for committing any or all of the following offences: (1) aggravated sexual assault, (2) kidnapping, or (3) robbery, according to the subsequent application for a writ of habeas corpus filed June 30, 2022 by Gonzales’ attorney.

He had just turned 18 in 2001 when he allegedly committed the aforementioned crimes, including the kidnapping, rape and murder of a woman named Bridget Townsend, who had been the girlfriend of his drug dealer.

His age was crucial in determining the type of punishment he would face; as an adult, his age was one of two factors that made him eligible for the death penalty.

The second factor was the testimony at the trial of the psychiatrist Gripon. After spending just three hours examining the defendant, Dr. Gripon testified that Gonzales suffered from antisocial personality disorder, which he described as “a condition in which the person has repeated criminal acts and will have a lack of social conscience, no life plan and little remorse,” according to the habeas petition.

Gripon also believed that Gonzales had “some type of significant underlying psychosexual disorder” and further asserted that “sexual assault exhibits the highest recidivism continuum”, telling the Medina County jury that the rape of Townsend by Gonzales demonstrated a high probability that Gonzales would continue to be a problem. threat to the safety of those around him.

Gripon’s testimony about the potential longevity of Gonzales’ dangerous behavior not only helped the jury convict Gonzales, but encouraged them to issue a death sentence, Gonzales’ attorneys said.

Gonzales’ situation is unique, according to the Marshall Projectwho noted “only Texas requires jurors in death penalty cases to attempt to predict the future by deciding “whether there is a likelihood that the defendant will commit criminal acts of violence that would pose a continuing threat to society”.

This requirement resulted in Texas in the lead United States in most executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

After meeting Gonzales again last September, Gripon concluded that his testimony at Gonzales’ trial was false, noting that Gonzales has clearly changed since his conviction, from a troubled teenager traumatized by his parents’ abandonment, the death of his aunt and a drug addiction, to a yoga practitioner, college graduate and religious speaker on his prison radio station.

Gonzales also volunteered to donate his kidney. Addressing the Marshall ProjectGonzales said he wanted to be able to “give life back”, trying to take action against the crime he committed.

Some early efforts to delay Gonzales’ execution were even made to allow such a donation. Gonzales’ clear personal transformation hardly reflects Gripon’s initial analysis, the lawyers said.

In reality, during reassessment, Gripon found no evidence of Gonzales’ previously diagnosed antisocial personality disorder, adding that a person with the disorder does not experience personality changes over time, so Gonzales’ transformation cannot be consistent with the diagnosis. This discovery discredits one of the main premises upon which Gripon’s predictions regarding Gonzales’ future were based at the trial.

Not only was Gripon’s diagnosis incorrect, but so was the “evidence” for the association between sexual assault perpetrators and high recidivism rates. Gripon had identified an 80% recidivism rate for sex offenders, but that number was investigated and found to be arbitrary.

As reported in the New York Times, the 80% rate is “an entirely made-up number”. Gonzales’ habeas petition includes additional evidence that the recidivism rate for sex offenders is well below 50%.

In addition to the recidivism rate significantly lower than the number given to the jury at trial, sexual assault also does not have “the highest continuum of recidivism”, as testified by Gripon.

On the contrary, Gonzales’ habeas petition reveals that recidivism rates for sex offenders are actually lower than for other types of crimes.

Gonzales’ age at the time he committed his crimes again became important. Gripon also failed to inform the jury that recidivism rates are lower for juvenile offenders than for adult offenders. Gonzales having just crossed the threshold of adulthood, this information would have been useful in determining a more accurate picture of his future behavior, the lawyers argued.

Beyond Gripon’s new findings, Gonzales’ attorney said in his habeas petition that the prosecution presented blatantly false evidence at trial from Gonzales’ cellmate, who was threatened by police officers with a harsher sentence if he did not testify against Gonzales.

In light of his cellmate’s recantation of his testimony, Gonzales’ death sentence violates the Eighth Amendment, Gonzales’ attorneys argued.

On July 11, 2022, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals responded to Gonzales’ habeas request.

The Court only found merit in the allegation that “the evidence about recidivism rates given by Gripon at trial was false and that this false testimony could have affected the jury’s answer to the question of dangerousness future in sentencing,” but since that evidence would therefore have to be considered by the trial court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Gonzales’ execution.

Gonzales’ stay of execution comes two months after the same court stayed the execution of Melissa Lucio, who was also convicted on the basis of false testimony and a lack of scientific evidence.

Unlike Gonzales, however, Lucio was innocent of the crime for which she was convicted.

The next execution date in Texas is set for August 17 for Kosoul Chanthakoummane.

After the two previous scheduled executions in Texas were stayed due to false evidence, Texas’ policy of determining death sentences based on a jury’s prediction of the threat a defendant poses in the future is questioned.

More broadly, the use of false evidence to convict Ramiro Gonzales, Melissa Lucio and others like them suggests, lawyers and death penalty advocates note, that an examination of the confidence any jury can have in pronouncing a death sentence may be necessary.

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