Urgent Action: Texas


TEXAS EXECUTION SCHEDULED FOR CRIME AT 18

Ramiro Gonzales is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 13 July 2022. He was sentenced to death in September 2006 for a murder committed in January 2001 when he was 18 years old and emerging from a childhood of abuse and neglect. He is now 39. Amnesty International is urging the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the state Governor to grant clemency.

Texas has executed more people than any other state in the Union and five times as many as Oklahoma, the next heaviest user of the penalty. If the method is a deterrent which is so often claimed, why the need for its continuing use?

Below we attach a draft letter to the Governor which you can adapt to your own circumstances. Note that the cut off date is 13 July.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Office of the Governor

PO Box 12428, Austin

Texas 78711-2428

USA

Dear Governor Abbott,

Ramiro Felix Gonzales (TDCJ #999513) is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 13 July 2022.

Ramiro Gonzales was 18 years and two months old at the time of the murder of Bridget Townsend in 2001. He was emerging from a childhood of serious neglect and abuse. A neuropsychologist testified at trial that he “basically raised himself”, had the emotional maturity of a 13- or 14-year-old, and in her opinion was likely in the top 10% of emotionally damaged children.

I do not wish to minimize the consequences of violent crime, but I am disturbed by your state’s use of the death penalty, including against young adult offenders. Over 13 per cent of all those executed in Texas between 1982 and 2022 were 18 or 19 years old at the time of the crime.

When banning the execution of under 18-year-olds in 2005, the US Supreme Court noted that “the qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18” and made clear that the death penalty be “limited to those offenders… whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution”. I urge you to consider how a death sentence imposed on a severely emotionally damaged 18-year-old meets this requirement.

I urge you to stop the execution of Ramiro Gonzales and to ensure that his death sentence is commuted.

Yours sincerely,

Additional information

In October 2002, Ramiro Gonzales pled guilty to the abduction and rape of a woman in September 2001 and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Soon after he began this sentence, he admitted to the murder of an 18-year-old woman committed in January 2001 while robbing the home of the person who supplied him with cocaine (a drug he had already consumed that day). At the time of the murder, Ramiro Gonzales was 72 days past his 18th birthday.

At the sentencing phase of his 2006 trial, the prosecution presented a psychiatrist who testified that Ramiro Gonzales would likely commit acts of violence in prison. He acknowledged that the American Psychiatric Association viewed such predictions of “future dangerousness”, a jury’s finding of which is a prerequisite for a death sentence in Texas, as unscientific and unreliable. Such predictions have long been shown to be grossly inaccurate, even if seen as effective for the prosecution’s pursuit of a death sentence. While Ramiro Gonzales has had some minor disciplinary infractions on death row, all have been non-violent.

The defence lawyers presented witnesses at the sentencing who testified that the defendant was effectively abandoned by his mother, who had huffed paint, drunk alcohol and abused drugs during the pregnancy and had twice tried to abort the child (on appeal, the claim that the defence lawyers should have retained an expert to assess Ramiro Gonzales for possible Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for additional mitigation evidence have been rejected). His father was not present during his childhood either. Left with his maternal grandparents, Ramiro Gonzales had little or no supervision. Witnesses also gave details of physical and sexual abuse to which he was subjected, including sexually abuse by a cousin when he was six years old or younger; and by an older woman when he was 12 or 13. Ramiro Gonzales started abusing alcohol and drugs at the age of 11. A neuropsychologist testified that he “basically raised himself” and had the emotional maturity of a 13- or 14-year-old. She testified that he was a “very damaged young man”, and that in her opinion, was likely in the top 10% of emotionally damaged children. She diagnosed him with reactive attachment disorder, a condition whereby a child has been unable to form stable, emotional bonds with parents or caregivers, often because of emotional neglect or abuse at an early age.

When the US Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that states could continue executing individuals for crimes committed when they were 16 or 17 years old, the four dissenting Justices noted that “many of the psychological and emotional changes that an adolescent experiences in maturing do not actually occur until the early 20s”, and that “adolescents on death row appear typically to have a battery of psychological, emotional, and other problems going to their likely capacity for judgment and level of blameworthiness.” When the Court in 2005 banned the death penalty against individuals who were under 18 at the time of the crime, it expressly recognized young people’s immaturity, impulsiveness, poor judgment, underdeveloped sense of responsibility and vulnerability or susceptibility to “negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure”, as well as their potential for reform. This time the majoritynoted that “the qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18”.

Sixty per cent of the USA’s executions of those under 18 at the time of the crime occurred in Texas. Of these 13 individuals, nine were Black (8) or Latino (1), and six of these nine (67%) were convicted of crimes involving white victims. While not subject to the categorical international and constitutional law prohibition relating to under 18-year-olds, the execution of those who were 18 or 19 at the time of the crime has followed a similar geographic and racial pattern. More such individuals have been executed in Texas than in any other state; indeed, only four other states have executed more people of any age than Texas has executed individuals who were 18 or 19 at the time of the crime. Seventy-seven of the 574 people (13%) put to death in Texas from 1982 to June 2022 were 18 or 19 at the time of the crime. Of these 77 people, 48 were African American (62%), 34 of whom (71%) were convicted of crimes involving white victims. Since 2014, Texas has executed nine people for crimes committed when they were 18; four were Black, three were Hispanic, and two were white. Ramiro Gonzales is Hispanic. The victim was white.

Two of the 13 federal executions carried out in the USA between July 2020 and January 2021 in the USA were of two Black men convicted of the murder of a white couple committed when they were 18 or 19. They were convicted in federal court in the same District of Texas in which Ramiro Gonzales was tried at state level. As the second of the two federal executions approached, the federal prosecutor who defended the death sentences on appeal revealed that she had changed her mind. She noted that “science has established that the structures of the brain are not fully developed in young men until they are 25 or 26” and that “18-year-olds are no different from 17-year-olds in both immaturities and potential for rehabilitation.”

There have been seven executions in the USA this year, one in Texas, which accounts for 574 of the 1,547 executions in the USA since 1976. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, unconditionally.

PREFERRED LANGUAGE TO ADDRESS TARGET: English.

You may also write in your own language.

PLEASE TAKE ACTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE UNTIL: 13 July 2022

NAME AND PRONOUNS: Ramiro Gonzales (He/his)

Additional TARGETS

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
Clemency Section
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, Texas 78757, USA
Fax: +1 512 406 0945
Email: bpp-clemency@tdcj.texas.gov
Salutation: Dear Presiding Officer Gutiérrez and Members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles

Ms Jane D Hartley 

U.S. Embassy

33 Nine Elms Lane, London SW11 7US

The Bill of Rights


Conservatives seek to abolish the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights

Human rights are about power, who has it, who wields it and the effects on those without it. These rights have been struggled over for centuries. Once it was kings (and the occasional queen) who wielded absolute power. Gradually, it was wrested from them and parliament achieved supremacy after 1688 and the Glorious Revolution. It was a rather more bloody affair a century later in France.

The all party Human Rights Act in 1998 – a fact rather overlooked by some ministers who characterise it as ‘Labour’s’ act – incorporated the European Convention into British law and marked a sea change in the relationship between the people and the government and agents of government. It set out a series of rights which enabled the ordinary subject to challenge government decisions, negligence or criminal acts. Notable successes include the Hillsborough disaster where the police attempted to shift blame onto the supporters but after years of campaigning – using the HRA as a key lever – the surviving families were able to achieve measure of justice and highlight police failings as a key factor in the tragedy. Other scandals have involved hospitals and other police miscarriages where victims have been able to bring to light serious failings in these institutions.

Despite being such a step forward, many in the Conservative party and a major parts of the press, have waged a remorseless campaign against the act. The Conservatives have pledged to reform or abolish it in all their recent manifestos. The press have published story after story along the lines that the act prevents criminals getting their just deserts, it helps terrorists escape justice and most recently, preventing asylum seekers from being exported to Rwanda. Many of the stories are exaggerated or have nothing to do with the HRA. For readers of this material, the decision by Dominic Raab to publish the Bill of Rights this week (June 2022) cannot come too soon and will enable they believe, proper justice to return to the UK. ‘Lefty lawyers’ will be put in their place and before long, plane loads of asylum seekers will be jetted off to Africa. The power of the judiciary to intervene will be reduced.

To understand these actions, as we said above, you have to start with power. If power is exercised fairly, with the rewards of society evenly disbursed, then the holders of power have little to fear. If the leaders have the trust of the people, they are unlikely to feel threatened. But when the divide in the nation between the haves and the have-nots gets wider and wider, when the poor get ever poorer and the nation’s leaders lose the trust of the led, then they will feel threatened. The life of easy privilege will be under threat. It is tempting in these circumstances to clamp down on the means of protest, to close off avenues of redress and to curb the means by which the ordinary person can assert their rights. Hence the spate of bills and the desire to end the HRA, the very means by which the ordinary person can assert their rights against the power of the state.

In addition to the power question, we have to look at some of the other doubtful reasoning behind this bill. In an earlier post we discussed the book written by Dominic Raab and two of his cabinet colleagues arguing for the end of the act. One element was the notion of liberty and it was this which enabled Britain to become a wealthy nation they argue. Laws and regulations have hampered this liberty and thus removed our ability to be properly wealthy. Get rid of these restrictions and we will regain our prosperity.

The argument overlooked slavery which provided the money for investment, imperial preference which stifled competition, and the terrible state that ordinary people lived in, the squalor, the slums, disease and malnutrition. Indeed, they, like many other people, have forgotten the ‘recruits crisis’ where losses in the Boor war at the end of the nineteenth century were hard to replace because the physical, malnourished and unhealthy state of volunteers was so poor.

The Bill of Rights, should it become law – together with the other legislation to limit protest, enhance the powers of the police and to limit judicial oversight – will be a backward step in the development of our society. It will shift yet more power to the government and its ministers. It will drastically reduce the power of the citizen to right wrongs. It is a retrograde step.

We and others will be working to oppose its passing.


For American readers, the Hillsborough disaster was a fatal crush of people during an FA Cup football (soccer) match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, on 15 April 1989. With 96 fatalities and 766 injuries, it remains the worst disaster in British sporting history. Initially, the supporters were blamed but after decades of campaigning, using the HRA as we’ve said, police failings were eventually recognised.

Rwanda flight


Two local group members go to Boscombe Down for the first Rwanda flight

The first flight scheduled to take refugees to Rwanda as part of the government’s refugee policy designed, it is claimed, to deter boat crossings in the Channel, was switched from Stanstead to Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. The airfield is close to Amesbury. It may have been done to make protests difficult to organise because of the distance between the two.

Two members of the local group managed to get to the perimeter of the airfield which gave a view of the runway. There was a large police presence and about half a dozen camera crews as well. The charter flight could be seen in the distance. At one stage the landing lights were switched on and take off was expected. There was considerable vehicle activity on the airfield and around the aircraft. Then the lights were switched off and sometime later the flight was cancelled following a last minute intervention by the ECHR. This is likely only to be a temporary respite however.

The photos show part of the media activity, Amnesty banners and the charter flight in the distance. We apologise for the poor quality due to the low light level.

June minutes


We are pleased to attach the minutes of our June meeting thanks to group member Lesley for preparing them. At 13 pages long they might seem overlong for minutes of a meeting which normally would run to a handful of pages. However, we do not produce a newsletter and many of the items are of interest to a wider public than just those attendees. The various bills being introduced by the government are of great concern and will curb dissent and criminalise various aspects of legitimate protest.

The current refugee situation


UPDATE: 11 June 2022: The court has ruled in favour of the government on Friday so the deportations to Rwanda can go ahead. There is an appeal on Monday.

With the completion of the passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill into law, most of the concentration this month has been on the plans for offshoring failed asylum seekers to Rwanda. However, it is worth noting that the provisions of the Bill do not all come into force immediately, as it will be a couple of months before some changes to immigration rules can be completed, and some changes are dependent on when “commencement orders” are made. On 28th June about a third of the provisions will become live; they include the two-tier refugee status, inadmissibility and third country removal rules at the heart of the Act; the new or toughened criminal offences in section 40; and the power to require people who don’t need a UK visa to get an electronic travel authorisation.

On Rwanda, legal representation has been made against the lawfulness of the action, by a group of legal and charitable organisations, plus the civil service trade union. The plan remains to send the first claimants to Africa on the 14th June.

The government website states: The government’s world-leading Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda has taken its final administrative step, as the Home Office has begun issuing formal removal direction letters to those who are set to go to Rwanda where they will be able to rebuild their lives in safety.

The Home Office itself, in its assessment of the plan, noted problems in several areas, such as a lack of staff and training, the independence of the appeals process, shortage of legal advice and risks to LGBTQ+ refugees. They note that Rwanda currently holds 127,000 refugees mostly from the DRC. It is also noteworthy that Whitehall set up a body to review the accuracy of official documents on Rwanda, but this may be a victim of proposed civil service cuts.

Of those who have been informed of their imminent departure, 10 people have withdrawn their applications to stay, which may count as a success for the policy… The others are presently in detention, despite the Home Office saying it would issue notices of intent while seekers were living in the community. It has also been noted that a recently-arrived boatload of mainly Sudanese refugees have been detained; they had not been assisted by people smugglers in their journey.

More positively, amendments to the regulations on private lives will allow young migrants 15 years lawful  residence rather than the 10 years for older migrants, and children born in the UK can apply for residence when they have been here for 7 years, rather than receiving a 2 ½ year visa.

Some statistics:

Between September 2020 and September 2021:

  • 203 failed asylum seekers were sent home. 737 left voluntarily. These figures compare with some 20,000 in 2005, and are indicative of the relatively high success rates for applicants currently. However, delays in processing have resulted in a record 109,000 applicants awaiting a decision as of March 2022.
  • About 75% of applicants for asylum are successful; since leaving the EU and the “Dublin agreement”, the UK has identified some 13,000 cases where the migrant could be returned to another EU country, but has only actually “returned” 75.
  • In 2021 843,538 visas were issued to non-EU migrants (many of them student visas, and a large number from Hong Kong and Afghanistan). Relatedly, of seasonal work visas issued, interestingly 67% were to Ukrainians (8% Russians). This year there is a shortage of up to 75% as a result (10,000 extra visas have been promised but nothing seems to have resulted).

The suggestion that asylum seekers should be sent to a facility at Linton-on-Ouse is being opposed by the local inhabitants, who have pointed out that there is no legal aid facility in the area.

The number of boat people arriving across the Channel remain high this year, believed to be currently approaching 10,000. A quarter of the arrivals are from Afghanistan, despite the existence of the ACRS scheme.

On the Ukrainian front, latest figures indicate that 136,000 applications for visas have been made, 115,000 received and 65,000 migrants have arrived. This works out at 10 per 10,000 population. Germany’s equivalent figure is 87 per 10,000 population.

Finally, a comment from Twitter:

Suicidal client in immigration detention has been told they are unable to provide counselling and instead has been sent a trauma handout pack in English (language he cannot understand). Suggestions include “try a new haircut” and “play an instrument.”

Andrew Hemming

Latest death penalty report


We are pleased to attach our latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for preparing it. It is a lengthy one – possibly the longest we have posted – as there is a lot going on, both positive and negative, on this topic. Note as ever that China is not reported on as information about executions are a state secret. China is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined.

UN visit to China criticised


Michelle Bachelet’s visit to China and the Uyghurs severely criticised

June 2022

The treatment of the Uyghurs in China has been the subject of criticism for some time and in September 2021, the UN were said to be finalising its report into the matter. Eight months later it still has not appeared and human rights organisations including Amnesty International have urged it to be published immediately.

Bachelet visited China recently and this itself has been severely criticised. She was not given unfettered access to the area nor able to interview individual Uyghurs in private. The World Uyghur Conference has voiced its serious dissatisfaction with the UN visit claiming it was a ‘propaganda victory for the Chinese enabling them to whitewash its activities’.

A previous post detailing some of the treatment the Chinese are meting out to Uyghurs was described. We add our voices to those calling for the report to be published.

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