Execution in 1999 murder case delayed

Joseph Ray Ries was set to die on Sept. 18

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 17, 2008 - Joseph Ray Ries, convicted of murdering 64-year-old Robert Lee Ratliff at his Cumby home in February 1999, will not be executed on Sept. 18th as originally scheduled, but the date has only been moved back a month.

Ries' date of execution by lethal injection was initially set for Thursday, Sept. 18, at 6 p.m. at Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville, but as anticipated by local officials, the date has been rescheduled.

He will be allowed to spend Sept. 18, his 29th birthday, on death row instead of being executed. Ries' new date of execution has been set at Oct. 21.

All scheduled executions earlier in the year were delayed while the Supreme Court reviewed a case which, had the justices ruled differently, could have stopped states from using the "three cocktail" death penalty.

Eighth Judicial District Judge Robert Newsom signed Ries' order of execution and death warrant in May. The order states that after the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied Ries' appeal request and ruled his "petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus has no merit," he has "exhausted his appeals."

On March 27, the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, affirmed the district court's denial of Ries' petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

The federal appeals prosecutor, once the 5th circuit rules against the death penalty defendant, then works with Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials to set a date of death. The ruling and setting of the date in Ries' case, like many other cases, was delayed while the Supreme Court reviewed a death penalty case from another state to determine whether the "three-drug cocktail" administered to put people to death by lethal injection was a violation of basic U.S. rights preventing "cruel and unusual punishment."

The federal prosecutor notified local officials that Sept. 18 had been approved as the date of execution for Ries, according to District Attorney Martin Braddy. The district judge was then required to issue the order setting execution and execution warrant. Both documents were signed in May and given to Sheriff Butch Adams to serve to Ries.

Those documents may set a date for Ries' death by lethal injection, but they don't guarantee it will take place on that date or even at all. The Supreme Court could opt to hear a request for an appeal, and Ries could appeal to the Governor's office for a stay of execution, although the likelihood of either occurring is "minuscule," Braddy said in May after the order and warrant were signed.

Ries was 19 at the time of the burglary and murder, and has been on death row in Huntsville since November of 1999. He will be 29 on Thursday, Sept. 18.

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