Last night Texas executed Rolando Ruiz, who was convicted of the 1992 murder for hire of Theresa Rodriguez, whose husband wanted to collect on her $400,000 life insurance policy.
The Supreme Court declined to step in to block Ruiz’s execution. But Justice Stephen Breyer – who has recently expressed doubt about whether the death penalty is constitutional – publicly dissented from the court’s denial of a stay. Breyer indicated that he would have put Ruiz’s execution on hold to allow the court to take a closer look at Ruiz’s claim that executing him would violate the Constitution’s bar on cruel and unusual punishment because he had spent 22 years in “permanent solitary confinement.” Breyer emphasized that Ruiz “has developed symptoms long associated with solitary confinement,” such as “severe anxiety and depression,” “suicidal thoughts,” and “hallucination.” And, Breyer added, Ruiz is not responsible for the 22 years that he has spent in solitary confinement, either through his behavior while incarcerated or by dragging out his appeals. Instead, Breyer stressed, his years in solitary confinement “arise simply from the fact that he is a prisoner awaiting execution.” As such, Breyer concluded, Ruiz’s claim “is a strong one, and we should consider it.”