(CNN) — A Texas death row inmate has asked the governor to delay his scheduled execution for 30 days on Wednesday so he can donate a kidney, a wish his lawyers say stems from his efforts to atone for the murder he committed.
The lawyers of Ramiro Gonzales, 39, sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of Bridget Townsend, they asked for a reprieve in a June 29 letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, writing in part that Gonzales’ request to donate an organ to an unknown person was “in keeping with his efforts to atone for his crimes.” .
But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which allowed Gonzales to be evaluated for organ donation, opposed the efforts because of his looming execution date, his attorneys wrote.
Gonzales did indeed request an organ donation prior to his execution, but was deemed unfit under the department’s health care policy, a department spokesperson confirmed to CNN on July 3.
“He still wants to save a life,” Michael Zoosman, a Jewish cleric whose correspondence with Gonzales first catalyzed the inmate’s desire to donate a kidney, told CNN. “And Texas is denying him that.”
CNN has contacted the governor’s office for comment.
Gonzales is scheduled to be executed this Wednesday for his 2006 conviction for manslaughter in the Townsend murder case.
Gonzales, who was 18 at the time, was looking to buy drugs one day in January 2001 from Townsend’s boyfriend, who was his salesman, according to a 2009 appeals court opinion.
When he called, Townsend answered the phone and told Gonzales that her boyfriend was at work. Gonzales then went to the house “for the purpose of stealing cocaine,” stole money, bound Townsend’s hands and feet and kidnapped her, records say. Gonzales then took Townsend to a location near her family’s ranch, where she sexually assaulted and shot her, killing her.
In October 2002, sitting in a county jail awaiting jail time on an unrelated matter, Gonzales led authorities to Townsend’s body and ended up confessing to the murder, records show.
Since Gonzales and Zoosman began sending each other letters in January 2021, the inmate “has never made an excuse for what he did,” said Zoosman, a federal hospital chaplain and founder of ¡L’chaim! Jews against the death penalty, he told CNN.
Gonzales first had the idea of donating a kidney when Zoosman mentioned that someone in his congregation in Maryland needed a transplant, Zoosman told CNN.
“I mentioned it to him out of the blue in a letter … and he jumped at it,” Zoosman said, adding that Gonzales was “very willing” and even wrote a letter to the person who needed the kidney.
“It was something I wanted to do to atone for the life I had taken,” Zoosman said.
Rare blood type makes Gonzales an ‘excellent candidate’
Gonzales has “actively sought” to be evaluated for organ donation ever since, his attorneys, Thea Posel and Raoul Schonemann of the University of Texas Capital Punishment Clinic at Austin, said in a statement released to CNN last week.
Earlier this year, the state criminal justice department allowed him to be evaluated by the University of Texas at Galveston (UTMB) medical department, where Gonzales was determined to be an “excellent candidate.” for the donation, according to the lawyers in their letter to the governor. However, Gonzales’ rare B blood type meant that he was not a match for the Zoosman congregation member.
“But that didn’t stop Ramiro,” Zoosman said. “Of his own free will, he sought through his legal team another way to do it, to become an altruistic kidney donor,” meaning to donate his kidney without a known or intended recipient.
But, according to Gonzales’s attorneys, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice told them in May that it does not allow altruistic kidney donation because it could introduce an “uncertain timetable, possibly interfering with the court-ordered execution date.” and does not guarantee coverage of costs, according to the attorneys’ statement.
However, the medical center — which declined to comment for this story, citing federal medical privacy law — told Gonzales’ attorneys that his rare blood type would make him “an excellent match with people who have been in the UTMB waiting list for close to 10 years due to the same rare B blood type,” according to the attorneys’ statement. The hospital assured Gonzales’ team in March that the donation process could be completed within a month, according to the lawyers.
In recent weeks, attorneys for Gonzales have repeatedly asked the state criminal justice department to reconsider its position on altruistic donations, according to the statement from Posel and Schonemann. The department has denied the requests, they said.
“He never expected this to lead to clemency”
Gonzales’ attorneys have also asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend to the governor that their client’s sentence be commuted to life in prison, according to their statement. They also requested a 180-day postponement to complete a potential kidney donation.
The board declined to comment to CNN, though a spokesman noted that members vote on clemency two days before a scheduled execution, in accordance with its policy.
Gonzales also has other lawsuits pending before the courts that could delay his execution: In one of them, he wanted the state criminal justice department to allow his spiritual adviser — who is not Zoosman — to put a hand on his chest, hold his hand and pray audibly at the time of execution. This request had previously been denied, but a federal judge ruled this month in a preliminary injunction that the state could only execute Gonzales on Wednesday if it allowed it, court documents show.
But while those legal proceedings could be efforts to stop or delay Gonzales’ execution, Zoosman firmly believes the inmate’s attempt to become a kidney donor is not.
“In his correspondence with me, he never indicated that he felt this would be a way out or a way to save his life. He never expected this to lead to clemency,” he said. In fact, according to Zoosman, Gonzales did not want to publicly reveal that he wanted to donate a kidney. He only made up his mind, he said, because his request was denied.
“There’s been a lot of discussion in the press lately about who’s pro-life and who’s not,” Zoosman said, referring to ongoing struggles over abortion rights following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. “And of course, that’s another topic.”
“But I can say this: I cannot conceive of a more death-friendly stance than that of a state that not only engages in the state-sponsored murder of defenseless human beings,” he added, “but prevents those in the tail of that murder to donate his organs to save the lives of others”.