Rebecca McCray in Slate:
On Tuesday night, Rolando Ruiz was executed in Texas after spending more than two decades on death row. The legal team representing Ruiz, who killed Theresa Rodriguez as part of a murder-for-hire scheme in 1992, filed multiple petitions with the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, one of which argued that his fate constituted cruel and unusual punishment. All of those petitions were denied.
Justice Stephen Breyer, who dissented from his colleagues’ denial of certiorari, believed Ruiz’s Eighth Amendment claim was “a strong one” and worth a closer look. “This Court long ago, speaking of a period of only four weeks of imprisonment prior to execution, said that a prisoner’s uncertainty before execution is ‘one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected,’ ” wrote Breyer. Ruiz, Breyer notes, endured that uncertainty for 22 years.
Ruiz was one of the nearly 40 percent of death row prisoners in the U.S. who have spent 20 or more years awaiting execution. Breyer pointed out that like most inmates sentenced to death, Ruiz lived in solitary confinement, where he suffered hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and depression. These psychological symptoms are common among prisoners placed in solitary confinement, and they run rampant among Texas inmates.