Save Ramiro Gonzales

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles

Elisabetta Diorio

“Love, mercy, grace, forgiveness. All these are acts of God. That’s what’s been so instrumental to my life.”   - Ramiro Gonzales

Ramiro Gonzales is set to be executed by the State of Texas on June 26, 2024, for a murder he committed just a few months after his 18th birthday. Today a profoundly changed person after spending nearly two decades on death row, Ramiro is a living and breathing example of our ability to grow and heal.

Now a coordinator of Texas’s faith-based program, Ramiro lives a life of contemplation and prayer, having overcome childhood trauma that one expert described as “off the charts.” Even the State’s expert from trial now says that he was wrong that Ramiro posed a future danger to society, and he has described Ramiro as “a significantly different person both mentally and emotionally."

You can help by sharing Ramiro’s story on social media, watching his clemency video, and signing this petition to save his life.


Photo Credit: Elisabetta Diorio

Ramiro Gonzales is a compelling example of genuine, self-motivated rehabilitation, and his growth behind bars demonstrates the human capacity for redemption. On June 26, 2024, he is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas.

Ramiro also faced execution in July 2022 but received a stay at the 11th hour after a diverse set of voices, from correctional officers to religious leaders to the State’s own psychological expert, called for his life to be saved.

Ramiro was sentenced to die for the January 2001 kidnapping, rape, and murder of Bridget Townsend, the live-in girlfriend of Ramiro’s then-drug dealer, Joe Leal. Ramiro committed the Townsend murder barely two months after his 18th birthday, while in the throes of a serious cocaine addiction rooted in childhood trauma and neglect. Townsend’s murder went unsolved for a year and a half until Ramiro suddenly confessed.

At his 2006 trial, inadequate investigation and a lack of trust between the defense team and family members enabled prosecutors to misleadingly portray Ramiro’s upbringing as “idyllic,” obscuring the trauma, isolation, and privation that marked his childhood experience.

Since his conviction, Ramiro has deepened in his faith and truly rehabilitated himself. Now a mature, deeply spiritual, and profoundly changed adult, Ramiro has conclusively refuted the prediction that he would present a danger to others, as numerous TDCJ death row guards and even the State’s own mental health expert at trial have now acknowledged.

In the almost two decades that Ramiro has been on death row, he has devoted himself to self-improvement, contemplation, and prayer. He is devoutly religious and shares his practice with spiritual advisors and with others on death row. He has discovered a love of reading and enjoys sharing and discussing poetry and novels. He appreciates philosophy and prose, writes poetry and devotionals, and is an incredibly talented artist. He is a practitioner of yoga and meditation, and has become a vegetarian for spiritual reasons. And although he was on death watch for over two years during the COVID-19 pandemic (making him ineligible for residence in the faith-based pods), he was recently appointed peer coordinator of the newest faith-based wing.

Photo Credit: Elisabetta Diorio

Death row prison guards have described Ramiro as “sensitive,” “genuinely” changed, a “good communicator,” and as someone who they “feel safe around” and who is “never problematic.” And the prosecution’s expert at trial, who testified that Ramiro had Antisocial Personality Disorder and would pose a future danger “wherever he [went],” has since recanted that testimony. After meeting with Ramiro in 2022, Dr. Edward Gripon observed that Ramiro “is now a significantly different person both mentally and emotionally. This represents a very positive change for the better.” He concluded that, contrary to his testimony at trial, Ramiro “does not pose a threat of future danger to society.”

Ramiro’s Childhood – Abandonment, Abuse, and Neglect

Ramiro Gonzales was born out of wedlock to a seventeen-year-old mother, Julia Gonzales Saldaña, in Dilley, Texas. During her pregnancy with Ramiro, Julia—who has struggled throughout her life with substance abuse—drank alcohol and abused inhalants and other drugs, at one point even attempting to induce an abortion by intentionally overdosing.

Abandoned by his mother at birth to be raised by his maternal grandparents, Francis and Ramiro Gonzales, Sr., Ramiro was raised in a small cinderblock house, crowded with extended family members, on the sprawling and desolate ranch where his grandfather worked as a laborer. Ramiro’s father, later identified as Jacinto Sanchez, was not listed on Ramiro’s birth certificate, and played no role in his upbringing. Although Ramiro and his father lived in the same area throughout Ramiro’s childhood, Ramiro never knew or even met his father until they were incarcerated together in the county jail when Ramiro was 19 years old. Ramiro’s mother Julia never acknowledged him as her son or cared for him, even though she had two other children whom she kept and raised. Julia’s rejection was ever-present for Ramiro: she often came to visit the ranch with her two other children and her husband Mario, who resented young Ramiro and would beat, kick, and demean him.

Ramiro’s grandparents worked long and hard hours, leaving him alone for much of the day without adult supervision or guidance. As a child he was left with family members to babysit, at least one of whom—a cousin—sexually abused him when he was just 6 years old. Ramiro was later sexually abused by other perpetrators throughout his childhood. Yet young Ramiro never received therapy or support because his family didn’t acknowledge the abuse.

When Ramiro was in elementary school, his uncle Johnny married a young woman named Loretta. Ramiro adored his new aunt. Loretta hugged him, praised him, and showed him the love and affection he craved. But their close bond was tragically shattered when Loretta was killed in a head-on car collision with a drunk driver when Ramiro was 15 years old. Loretta’s death plunged Ramiro into inconsolable grief. Despondent and completely unequipped to deal with her loss, Ramiro turned to drugs to numb his pain. Within a year, he had dropped out of school. After repeating multiple grades, he was still in the eighth grade when he withdrew at 16 years old.

In the years that followed, Ramiro’s life spiraled out of control. What started as self-medication quickly devolved into full-blown addiction. While he had previously had only minor contact with the juvenile justice system, Ramiro’s deepening addiction led him to commit a series of drug-related crimes, stealing a jar of coins and an ATV to sell for drugs and forging stolen checks for money to finance his addiction. He began to run errands for his drug dealer, Joe Leal, in exchange for drugs and to pay off his debts. Ramiro’s rapid descent into addiction culminated in the tragic January 2001 kidnapping and murder of Bridget Townsend, Leal’s girlfriend, when she was an unexpected witness to Ramiro’s desperate attempt to steal drugs from Leal’s home a few months after he turned eighteen. However, the case grew cold and likely would never have been solved had Ramiro not come forward and confessed.

Eight months later, still mired in addiction, Ramiro committed a second offense, the abduction and rape of Florence Teich, a Bandera real estate agent. In October 2002, Ramiro entered a guilty plea to those charges, without any plea agreement with the State, and was sentenced to two sentences of life imprisonment. Days later, after meeting with a San Antonio television news reporter, Ramiro decided to “do the right thing” and confessed to Bridget Townsend’s murder. He then led law enforcement authorities to her remains. For this crime, he was sentenced to death.

A Trial Marred by Misrepresentations and Incomplete Information

At Ramiro’s 2006 trial, the prosecution painted a picture of a dangerous young sociopath whose rapidly escalating behavior could not be stopped unless the jury sentenced him to death. To convince the jury that Ramiro deserved to die, prosecutors presented testimony from a psychiatric expert who branded Ramiro a sociopath, based in part on now-recanted testimony from a jailhouse informant alleging that Ramiro made statements to him about the crime. The expert testified that Ramiro’s risk of continuing to commit similar offenses was extremely high based on now-debunked statistical “data” that both overrepresented the risk of recidivism and underrepresented the potential for rehabilitation. Because Ramiro’s court-appointed lawyers conducted only rudimentary investigation of Ramiro’s life history, they failed to discover and present compelling evidence that would have provided context for Ramiro’s impulsive behavior and acts of violence; his trial lawyers entirely failed to counter the prosecutors’ depiction of Ramiro.

Thus, the jury that sentenced Ramiro to death never heard an accurate or holistic picture of Ramiro’s upbringing and family history. Much of the mitigation the defense team attempted to offer was successfully excluded from the jury’s consideration by prosecutors. Enabled by this skeletal and deficient defense presentation, prosecutors told the jury in closing argument that Ramiro grew up on “a beautiful, gorgeous ranch” where he “got privileges and opportunities that a lot of other kids don’t have.” The prosecution painted him as a bad seed rather than as the abandoned child who suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that he actually was. Today, the State’s expert has recanted his trial testimony about Ramiro, determining that Ramiro “is now a significantly different person both mentally and emotionally. This represents a very positive change for the better.”

Who Ramiro Gonzales is Today

In the eighteen years that he has been on death row, Ramiro has devoted himself to self-improvement, contemplation, and prayer, and has grown into a mature and peaceful adult. Away from the traumatic environment of his youth and now in a stable environment, he has grown up in prison. With an understanding of how his childhood shaped his future actions, Ramiro does not allow himself to be defined by his past, but rather has committed to deliberate and decisive choices to better himself and the lives of those around him.

Today, Ramiro is a devoted and supportive friend, someone who practices accountability and values reciprocity in his relationships. He is a lover of learning and reading and a skilled artist who makes work for the people he loves. He practices yoga and meditation, and has, in keeping with his desire to do no harm, become a vegetarian. He is introspective, patient, and emotionally generous. He has taught himself how to be the person he always wanted to be, using his faith as his constant guide.

Most importantly, Ramiro has a deep and abiding faith in God. As one death row correctional officer has said, Ramiro “holds faith high.” He has completed numerous religious studies courses, and his sermons have been read on the prison radio show and have been delivered as Sunday services of the United Church of Canada. Ramiro’s favorite verse, and one that he has kept close to him throughout his time in prison, is Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” In times when his faith has been shaken, by hardship and loss, this verse has reminded him to hold fast, to keep moving and to keep growing. In January 2024, he was proud to be selected as a peer coordinator for a new faith-based pod on the Polunsky Unit, formalizing his role as a religious and spiritual leader to many.

After overcoming learning difficulties that caused him to drop out of school in the eighth grade at age sixteen, Ramiro now spends most of his time reading and studying theology. He also enjoys discussing and sharing the poetry and novels he reads with his pen pals and his legal team, and he writes poetry and devotionals of his own. Ramiro has become a talented visual artist, spending dozens of hours on personalized portraits and gifts to family and friends, crafting exquisite pen-and-ink pieces that are often mistaken for photographs.

Ramiro is a student of baseball history and an avid Houston Astros fan, listening to games on the radio and talking about baseball with anyone who will listen. These portraits of baseball heroes were made as gifts and now hang in the office of one of his lawyers.

Ramiro is often asked by others on death row to draw, paint, and sketch pieces for them or their family members. He has created numerous thoughtful pieces of art for friends and his legal team, including a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles painting for the five-year-old son of a member of his team and several portraits of his attorney’s beloved dog, whom he loves yet has never met.

Ramiro’s reflective nature and lighthearted, goofy sense of humor make him a natural support and effective minister to those around him. He is a caring, patient, and emotionally generous individual who is caring and attentive to those he loves in the ways that he himself needed as an adolescent. As one death row prison guard recalled:

"My mom passed away in December. And I guess probably my coworkers were probably talking about it, and he probably got wind of it, and one day when I worked that area, he said basically, you know, I heard and he said I prayed about it, I prayed for you. And that’s who he is."

In addition to assisting others with spiritual and emotional needs, Ramiro provides friendship and support to friends both in prison and on the outside, and often purchases commissary items for those on death row without financial support.

Ramiro has developed and nurtured meaningful relationships not only with those he has encountered in prison but also with a diverse group of people around the globe. He has become particularly close with his spiritual advisor Bri-anne, a reverend in Canada with whom he started exchanging letters in 2014. Bri-anne and Ramiro share not only a deep friendship, but a love of God and a spiritual connection that they each value highly. As Bri-anne has said, "There are a lot of people who have been very positively affected by being in relationship with Ramiro. Ramiro makes people's lives better. And that effect just moves out into the world."

Ramiro’s growth has not just affected Ramiro himself but has touched all with whom he interacts: his family and friends, penpals and spiritual advisors, fellow inmates, TDCJ correctional officers and staff, and the members of his legal team. To all he offers love, gratitude, good humor, and emotional support. He signs every letter and card with this salutation:  

This Petition is co-sponsored by Texas Defender Service (TDS) and the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP). By signing this petition, you are consenting to receiving follow-up communications from TDS and/or TCADP.

Sponsored by

To: The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
From: [Your Name]

Dear Governor Abbott, Chairman Gutiérrez, and Members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles:

I am saddened that the State of Texas once again plans to execute Ramiro Gonzales for a murder he committed just a few months after his 18th birthday. Today a profoundly changed person after spending nearly two decades on death row, Ramiro is a living and breathing example of our ability to grow and heal.

Ramiro recently was chosen as a coordinator of the faith-based program on death row, and his ministry has a positive impact on many people. Ramiro lives a life of contemplation and prayer, having overcome childhood trauma that one expert described as “off the charts.” His jury never had the opportunity to hear about the abuse and neglect he experienced as a young child. Today the State’s expert from trial says he was wrong in his assessment that Ramiro posed a future danger to society, and he has described Ramiro as a “a significantly different person both mentally and emotionally."

Despite his transformation over the last eighteen years and deep remorse for his actions as a troubled teenager, Ramiro now faces execution on June 26, 2024.

Ramiro has so much left to offer the world. I respectfully request the Board recommend clemency for Ramiro and for Governor Abbott to grant it, or in the alternative, that Ramiro be granted a 180-day reprieve.