A Legal Obituary for Ramiro

Most death penalty lawyers who practice long enough will watch the execution of a client. It is always, always terrible, but not always terrible in the same way. With each client’s execution, a lawyer is confronted with the death of a human being—not an accidental death, not an inevitable death, but an avoidable one—and with his or her own failure to prevent that death. Some executions also involve a very personal loss for the lawyer because of their relationship with the client. Other executions are horrific because things go awry and impose extreme suffering on the executed individual. No matter how many times a lawyer walks that last walk with a client, it does not get easier. Each loss is different because each life is different. I have lost clients whom I have loved as friends and I have witnessed a botched execution. Ramiro Hernandez Llanas was not a friend, nor did his execution appear to cause him pain. But for me as a lawyer, his execution was the hardest. I could not save Ramiro. I could not get even one judge to care about Texas’s willingness to flout the law. This is the story of Ramiro’s case—not a famous case, but one that otherwise would be lost to history, as many outrageous applications of the death penalty are.