Texas to execute man convicted of killing elderly woman during robbery

FILE PHOTO: Ruben Gutierrez, who was convicted of stabbing to death an elderly mobile-home park owner during a robbery at her home with two accomplices two decades ago, is seen in this undated handout photo from the Texas Department of Corrections, made available to Reuters on June 15, 2020. Texas Department of Corrections/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A Texas man who was convicted of stabbing to death an elderly mobile-home park owner during a robbery with two accomplices two decades ago is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Tuesday.

Ruben Gutierrez is set to die at 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville for the 1998 murder of Escolastica Harrison, 85.

As of Tuesday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court was considering a request by lawyers for Gutierrez, who is Catholic, for it to stop the execution so justices could consider an appeal challenging the constitutionality of a Texas policy that bans chaplains and other religious advisers from the death chamber.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice “is not merely making Gutierrez’s religious practice more difficult. It is placing a direct, irrevocable prohibition on his sincere religious exercise, and at the most critical time for such exercise — when the soul is departing this world for the next,” the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a court brief.

Gutierrez was friends with Harrison’s nephew, who told him that she kept $600,000 in cash hidden in her Brownsville home, court papers showed.

After Gutierrez orchestrated a plan to steal the money, he and two accomplices went to Harrison’s home on Sept. 5, 1998. There they stabbed Harrison to death with a screwdriver and took $56,000 from her home, prosecutors said.

Gutierrez was convicted and sentenced to death in 1999. Rene Garcia, one of Gutierrez’s accomplices, is serving a life sentence. The other suspect, Pedro Garza, has been wanted for 20 years after he was released from jail on bond, according to local media.

Gutierrez would be the seventh inmate to be executed in the United States and the second in Texas in 2020, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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