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Justices decline last-minute death penalty reprieve in Texas

A convicted cop killer had sought to stay his Wednesday night execution on the basis of jury bias.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court refused Wednesday to intervene in the planned execution Wednesday night of a Texas man who killed a police officer in 2007. 

Wesley Ruiz killed Dallas police officer Mark Nix after attempting to flee a traffic stop. Nix hit Ruiz’s car window with a police baton when he and other officers finally cornered Ruiz, and Ruiz shot him. 

Set to be put to death after 7 p.m. Wednesday, Ruiz applied to the U.S. Supreme Court for stay of execution, and he also petitioned for a writ of certiorari. The court declined both filings at around 5 p.m. without comment. 

Prosecutors at Ruiz's trial had cast the defendant as a danger to society, telling jurors that death row would be the only hope of thwarting that threat. The jury sentenced him to death. 

In 2013, Ruiz brought a habeas claim regarding the state’s evidence regarding his future dangerousness. Ruiz argued the state presented false testimony from an expert that he would have opportunities to commit violent crimes while in prison. His petition was dismissed. 

After the state obtained a warrant for Ruiz’s execution in July, the jury foreman signed an affidavit expressing racist views directed at Ruiz. The foreman claimed Ruiz was “like an animal” and said Hispanic people that attended his trial were gang members. The foreman also admitted to being scared of Hispanics who were at the trial and claimed to have persuaded another member of the jury to give Ruiz the death penalty because he could be dangerous. 

Another juror signed an affidavit stating that she held racist stereotypes that made her vulnerable to the state’s expert witness on Ruiz’s future dangerousness. She said she thought Ruiz would be able to escape if sentenced to life in prison and that, had she known differently, it would have changed her mind. 

In January, Ruiz filed another habeas petition arguing the statements proved the juror unconstitutionally relied on anti-Hispanic racial stereotypes to sentence him to death. His appeal was dismissed. 

The inmate was represented in his high court petition by Peter Walker with the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“Because the jurors viewed Mr. Ruiz as a ‘subhuman’ and expressed hostility to the very presence of Hispanics in their community, Mr. Ruiz was deprived of the basic Sixth Amendment guarantee that the body making the solemn life-or-death decision be impartial,” Walker wrote. “Because the jurors ‘relied on racial stereotypes or animus’ and on a ‘particularly noxious strain of racial prejudice’ in determining whether Mr. Ruiz was a future danger, his death sentence is tainted.” 

Ruiz asked the court if its 2017 ruling in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado should apply to capital sentencing proceedings. In Pena-Rodriguez the court held traditional rules regarding the impeachment of jury verdicts do not apply when a juror relies on racial stereotypes or animus when reaching their verdict. 

Texas told the court that Ruiz does not present any “special or important reason” for the court’s review, and that he failed to demonstrate a violation of any federal constitutional right. To support its case against Ruiz, the state cited evidence of Ruiz’s involvement with a street gang and his prior offenses. 

The state said Ruiz’s petition presented a question that wasn’t worth the court’s attention. Texas argues the juror statements could have been included in prior appeals and there is no legal justification for including considering new evidence. 

“Ruiz has not furnished a single reason to grant a writ of certiorari, let alone a compelling one,” Tomee Heining, deputy chief of criminal appeals for the state of Texas, wrote in the state’s brief. “Instead, Ruiz attempts to undermine his conviction with ‘new’ evidence — namely, unreliable juror declarations that could have been obtained for inclusion in any of his three prior habeas applications. But Ruiz cannot demonstrate the factual or legal unavailability of the either his claim or this ‘new’ evidence, as required by Article 11.071 § 5(a)(1), upon which he relies.” 

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