A teen offender whose spiritual transformation on Texas’ death row has caused a key prosecution mental health expert to recant his trial testimony, has filed a petition for clemency seeking a commutation of his death sentence ahead of his scheduled July 13, 2022 execution date.

On June 21, 2022, lawyers for Ramiro Gonzales (pictured) submitted a petition for clemency to Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Gonzales’ clemency petition describes the neglect and abuse he experienced as a child, the misrepresentations presented at his trial, and his rehabilitation and transformation during his time on death row. The petition also asks that, even if clemency is denied, Gov. Abbott grant Gonzales a reprieve so he can donate one of his kidneys as an act of atonement.

The clemency petition and an accompanying video depict Gonzales’ upbringing as relentlessly abusive and neglectful. Born to a 17-year-old mother who rejected him, Gonzales was sexually abused beginning at the age of six. He was raised by his grandparents in a household in which, one of his cousins said, he was provided only “the bare minimum of what a human being could have to survive” and received “no love and affection.” His aunt Loretta, the petition says, was the one source of love and support in his life, but she was killed by a drunk driver when Gonzales was 15. He became addicted to drugs to numb the pain of her loss, and his addiction led directly to the murder for which he was sentenced to death. He was 18 years old at the time.

Gonzales’ trial lawyers failed to investigate his upbringing and failed to challenge the prosecution’s false portrayal of him as having grown up on “a beautiful, gorgeous ranch” with “privileges and opportunities that a lot of other kids don’t have.” Prosecutors also presented testimony from psychiatrist Dr. Edward Gripon, who diagnosed Gonzales with antisocial personality disorder and argued that he would “be a threat wherever he goes.” Under Texas law, a death sentence can only be imposed if the jury finds that the defendant is likely to present a future danger. After meeting with Gonzales again more recently, Dr. Gripon retracted his trial testimony, concluding that Gonzales “does not pose a threat of future danger to society.” He said that the sincerity of Gonzales’ remorse is something he has rarely seen in the 8000 evaluations he has conducted. “If his sentence is commuted, I think that would be a positive thing for all of us,” Dr. Gripon said.

The clemency petition also presents statements from current and former correctional officials who have spent time with Gonzales during his incarceration on death row. One said he “has never shown any sign of aggression.” Another described how Gonzales reached out to her when her mother died, offering to pray for her and her mother. She said he “always thinks about the other person. That’s who he is as a person.” During his time in prison, Gonzales has become deeply religious, and completed a bachelor’s degree through a correspondence course seminary. In Gonzales’ own words, “I’m definitely not the person I was 20 years ago.”

Bias in future dangerousness findings for Latinx defendants has recently drawn scrutiny. In an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Arizona death-row prisoner John Montenegro Cruz, LatinoJustice PRLDEF focused on bias in juror assumptions about the future dangerousness of defendants of color. LatinoJustice’s brief cited a 2012 survey that found 58% of respondents thought “violent” described Hispanic individuals slightly or moderately well. The brief also summarized research showing “that jury-eligible participants strongly associated Latino men with ‘Danger’ and white men with ‘Safety,’ and that they held similar dangerousness stereotypes for Latino men as they do for Black men.”

The clemency petition stresses that, at age 18 and 71 days, Gonzales was barely eligible for the death penalty. Noting that “[c]ontemporary research in developmental psychology and neuroscience establishes that adolescent brain development continues well into the third decade of life,” his lawyers argue that “all of the scientific and societal rationales for exempting juveniles from the death penalty apply with equal measure” in his case.

During the course of his incarceration, Gonzales developed a relationship with a cantor from Maryland who informed him that a member of his synagogue needed a kidney transplant. Gonzales underwent medical screening to see if he could donate his kidney, and was found to be “an excellent candidate for donation.” Gonzales was not a match with the intended recipient, but learned that he has a rare blood type and that his kidney donation could fill an urgent need elsewhere. His clemency petition explains, “because of the impending execution date, TDCJ has been unwilling to allow Ramiro to make an ‘altruistic’ kidney donation to a person unknown to him.”

Gonzales also has litigation pending in state and federal courts. Gonzales is challenging his death sentence before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He argues that his death sentence should be vacated because of the state’s use of false testimony about his future dangerousness and the facts of the crime and because of his age at the time of the crime. On July 6, a federal judge ordered Texas prison officials to grant Gonzales’ request for religious accommodations at his execution, which include allowing his spiritual advisor to hold his hand during the execution.


Juan A. Lozano, Judge: Execution can’t pro­ceed with­out reli­gious requests, Associated Press, July 6, 2022; Juan A. Lozano, Texas inmate asks to delay exe­cu­tion for kid­ney dona­tion, Associated Press, July 1, 2022; Brant Bingamon, Death Watch: Man Set to Die Pleads for His Life, The Austin Chronicle, July 82022.

Read Gonzales’ clemen­cy peti­tion, sup­ple­men­tal mate­ri­als, his request for a 30-day reprieve, and his sub­se­quent appli­ca­tion for a writ of habeas cor­pus. Watch the clemen­cy video.