HOUSTON — A Texas inmate who is set to be put to death in less than two weeks asked that his execution be delayed so he can donate a kidney.
Ramiro Gonzales is scheduled to receive a lethal injection on July 13 for fatally shooting 18-year-old Bridget Townsend, a southwest Texas woman whose remains were found nearly two years after she vanished in 2001.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Gonzales’ lawyers, Thea Posel and Raoul Schonemann, asked Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to grant a 30-day reprieve so the inmate can be considered a living donor “to someone who is in urgent need of a kidney transplant.”
His attorneys have made a separate request to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for a 180-day reprieve related to the kidney donation.
In their request to Abbott, Gonzales’ attorneys included a letter from Cantor Michael Zoosman, an ordained Jewish clergyman from Maryland who has been corresponding with Gonzales.
“There has been no doubt in my mind that Ramiro’s desire to be an altruistic kidney donor is not motivated by a last-minute attempt to stop or delay his execution. I will go to my grave believing in my heart that this is something that Ramiro wants to do to help make his soul right with his God,” Zoosman wrote.
Gonzales’ attorneys say he’s been determined to be an “excellent candidate” for donation after being evaluated by the transplant team at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. The evaluation found Gonzales has a rare blood type, meaning his donation could benefit someone who might have difficulty finding a match.
“Virtually all that remains is the surgery to remove Ramiro’s kidney. UTMB has confirmed that the procedure could be completed within a month,” Posel and Schonemann wrote to Abbott.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice policies allow inmates to make organ and tissue donations. Agency spokeswoman Amanda Hernandez said Gonzales was deemed ineligible after making a request to be a donor earlier this year. She did not give a reason, but Gonzales' lawyers said in their letter that the agency objected because of the pending execution date.
Abbott’s office did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is set to vote July 11 on Gonzales’ request to that agency.
Gonzales’ attorneys have made a separate request asking the board to commute his death sentence to a lesser penalty.
They also asked that his execution not proceed if his spiritual adviser isn’t allowed to both hold his hand and place another hand on his heart during his execution. A two-day federal trial on this request was set to begin Tuesday in Houston.
Gonzales’ request to delay his execution for an organ donation is rare among death row inmates in the U.S., Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Friday.
In 1995, condemned murderer Steven Shelton in Delaware donated a kidney to his mother.
In 2013, Ronald Phillips’ execution in Ohio was delayed so his request to donate a kidney to his mother could be reviewed. Phillips’ request was later denied and he was executed in 2017.
“Skeptics will think this is simply an attempt to delay the execution. But if that were the case, I think you’d be seeing many requests,” said Dunham, whose group takes no position on capital punishment but has criticized the way states carry out executions. “The history of executions in the United States shows that people don’t make offers of organ donations for the purpose of delaying an execution that will still take place.”
In a report, the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that serves as the nation’s transplant system under contract with the federal government, listed various ethical concerns about organ donations from condemned prisoners. They include whether such donations could be tied to prisoners receiving preferential treatment or that such organs could be morally compromised because of their ties to the death penalty.