Days after his office asked to set an execution date for Texas death row prisoner John Ramirez, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez (pictured) asked Ramirez’s trial court to withdraw the order.

Gonzalez, a former defense attorney who was elected in 2016 on a platform of criminal justice reform, said he has come to view the death penalty as “unethical” and that the request for an execution date was the result of a miscommunication within his office.

“The undersigned District Attorney for Nueces County has the firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person while the undersigned occupies the office in question,” Gonzalez wrote in the April 14, 2022 motion to withdraw the order setting the execution. “The Assistant District Attorney who most recently moved for an execution date in this cause was not aware of my desire in this matter and did not consult me prior to moving for an execution date.”

Upon receiving the Nueces County District Attorney’s request for an execution date in early April, 94th Judicial District Court Judge Bobby Galvan set Ramirez’s execution for October 5, 2022. Judge Galvan must approve Gonzalez’s request for Ramirez’s execution to be called off.

Gonzalez said he has become more opposed to the death penalty since he was elected in 2016. He was one of 56 elected prosecutors to sign a letter in February 2022 urging systemic changes to end the death penalty nationwide.

“I’ve been open about not wanting to seek the death penalty, and I think it’d be hypocritical of me as a person not wanting to seek the death penalty and then setting a date of execution for someone, for it to be carried out,” Gonzalez told the Caller-Times. Gonzalez’s statements indicate that Ramirez would not receive a new execution date during his tenure as DA. His current term ends in 2024.

In a Facebook live video, Gonzalez apologized to anyone upset about the motion. The district attorney said his thinking on the issue has changed over time and that he “did this because I thought this would be the right thing to do.”

Ramirez was sentenced to death in 2009 for the stabbing death of Pablo Castro during a robbery. Fernando Castro, the youngest son of the victim. told KRIS-TV that he was angry the October 5 execution would be canceled.

In his Facebook Live video, Gonzalez urged constituents to consider the pros and cons of the death penalty, stressing the disproportionate impact capital punishment has on people of color, people from low-income backgrounds, and people with intellectual disabilities.

“I know that I’m doing this on a case where I don’t think innocence is a question,” Gonzalez told the Caller-Times. “DAs still have opportunities to do what they feel is right. … I’m always going to do what I think is right, even if I get backlash.”

The U.S. Supreme Court previously stayed Ramirez’s execution to consider his challenge to Texas’ refusal to allow his pastor to “lay hands” on him and “pray over” him out loud during his execution. In an opinion issued March 24, 2022, the Court reversed lower court orders that had denied his requests. The Court recognized that “there is a rich history of clerical prayer at the time of a prisoner’s execution, dating back well before the founding of our Nation.” In reaching its decision, the Court noted that Texas also had, until recently, permitted its chaplains to engage in audible prayer and physically touch condemned prisoners in the execution chamber. The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act bars states from substantially burdening a prisoner’s exercise of religion unless doing so is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. In an 8-1 decision, the Court held that Texas’ blanket ban on audible prayer and touching was not the least restrictive method to preserve the safety and solemnity of the execution chamber.