In 2006, Ramiro Gonzales (pictured as a child) confessed to the murder, kidnapping, and rape of Bridget Townsend and was sentenced to death. Texas death sentencing procedures uniquely require capital juries to predict whether a defendant is likely to commit future acts of violence. At Mr. Gonzales’ trial, psychiatrist Dr. Edward Gripon testified for the state and told the jury that Mr. Gonzales “has demonstrated a tendency to want to control, to manipulate, and to take advantage of certain other individuals,” opining that he would cause harm to others in the future. That opinion formed the basis of the jury’s sentence of death. Mr. Gonzales’ execution is now scheduled for June 26, 2024. 

But in September 2021, Dr. Gripon met with Mr. Gonzales on death row and determined his prediction about him was wrong. “Ramiro [Gonzales] doesn’t try to lie his way out… If this man’s sentence was changed to life without parole, I don’t think he’d be a problem,” Dr. Gripon told The Marshall Project. Citing his reliance on a now-debunked study and invalid statistics, Dr. Gripon wrote following this second evaluation that “it is [his] opinion, to a reasonable psychiatric probability, that [Mr. Gonzales] does not pose a threat of future danger to society. According to The Marshall Project, this is the only time Dr. Gripon has ever changed his opinion about a defendant in a death penalty case. 

Mr. Gonzales was scheduled to be executed in July 2022, but two days ahead of his execution date, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) stayed his execution and directed the trial court to review a claim that Dr. Gripon testified and presented false, debunked statistics. Despite Dr. Gripon’s changed opinion, the trial court recommended that the TCCA dismiss Mr. Gonzales’s claim because of procedural bars.

Throughout the 18 years that Mr. Gonzales has spent on death row, he has expressed remorse for his crime. “I know my apologies cannot even begin to bring you peace of mind and healing, but I feel that I should still tell you how sorry I am for the pain and anguish you have suffered because of my actions,” Mr. Gonzales wrote in an apology letter to the Townsend family in 2022. “I am sorry, deeply sorry, that I took what was so precious to you and I know there’s nothing I can do or say to make it better,” Mr. Gonzales added. While on death row, Mr. Gonzales became one of the first members of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Faith Based Program on Death Row, where participants live in special housing and take religion classes. In this program, Mr. Gonzales acts as a peer mentor and a coordinator for the Faith Based Program, mentoring fellow death row prisoners. Mr. Gonzales first turned to religion in Medina County Jail while awaiting trial, after a visiting preacher gifted him a Bible and has since earned the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree from a theological seminary.

Mr. Gonzales’ clemency application pointed to his participation in the death row program and overall religious journey. His clemency applications questioned, “Is clemency called for in a case where executing [Mr. Gonzales] is the judicially imposed sanction for a heinous crime, but granting him mercy would save souls that would otherwise be lost?” In October 2023, Texas was set to execute Will Speer, the first coordinator of the Faith Based Program, who was denied clemency despite his detailed showing of his religious work and growth. His execution was stayed just hours ahead of the scheduled time for reasons unrelated to clemency. Mr. Speer has since spoken with the Texas Observer about the importance of the Faith Based Program and influence of people like Mr. Gonzales. Mr. Speer told the Observer that the program is “not just some fluff that sounds good, [but] life changing, life growing, life giving classes,” and that it’s difficult when one of the coordinators gets an execution date. “These are men who are new to change, some new to faith… They need lots of help to see things in a new light, or a different perspective,” Mr. Speer added.

Mr. Gonzales’ clemency application highlighted his religious journey and included information about his tumultuous childhood, including abuse and mental health issues. According to the petition, Mr. Gonzales was given up for adoption, sexually abused as a child, and began using drugs at age 15 to cope with the death of his aunt. By the time Mr. Gonzales dropped out of school at age 16, he was still in eighth grade. Mr. Gonzales’ attorneys told the Observer that his clemency application highlights the reasons he should be spared and allowed to continue to be able to minister to other death row prisoners. “In the free world, ministers and faith leaders are viewed as pillars of the community… In the same way [Mr. Gonzales] is a leader in prison society,” said Thea Posel, an attorney for Mr. Gonzales. “He is deserving of mercy for numerous reasons, but faith is inextricably intertwined with all of them, as it is an essential part of who he is and how he has attempted to atone for his sins and the pain he has caused,” added Ms. Posel.

Mr. Gonzales’ clemency application was denied on June 24, 2024, by a vote of 7 to 0.