Why I will love and remember Ramsey Clark forever

By Gloria Rubac

On Monday, March 23, 1993, about 10:30 at night, a man walked up to me and said, “Gloria, I guess it’s you and me with Carlos tonight.” I gasped because I was unloading signs and banners to protest an execution and was not prepared to learn that Ramsey’s client and my dear friend, Carlos Santana, changed his mind and wanted me to be in the room with him as Texas executed him.

Ramsey introduced himself to me and told me that both of us were on the prison’s list of people to witness the midnight execution.

In our last visit on Friday, I had told Carlos I could be with him since he had no family in the States and I didn’t want him to be alone. He told me that he didn’t want to put me through witnessing his execution and insisted he would go by himself.

At 11:00 pm Ramsey and I reported to the prison officials in the then administration building across the street from the Walls Unit where executions were carried out.

Two burly white prison guards with cowboy hats and steel-toed cowboy boots escorted us to a room, told us to wait until we were called to cross the street.

Ramsey didn’t tell me but he had filed a number of last-minute appeals for Carlos. Midnight came and went and still we sat, waiting to be escorted across the street. We talked about Carlos, about the death penalty, about how difficult it was to represent a person on death row.

Ramsey had graduated from law school at the University of Texas in Austin and he told me he was friends with Texas Governor Ann Richards, who was his classmate in law school. He was surprised that when he went to Austin to see her earlier in the day to talk to her about clemency for Carlos, she refused to meet with him. He seemed caught off guard that she sent her staff out to tell him that she would not see him.

As the hours passed, we talked and talked as if we had known each other for a very long time. We talked about US imperialism, about the Middle East, about Central America, about Vietnam. We talked about the racism in the criminal justice system.

Ramsey explained a law in Texas that is commonly known as the Law of Parties. He told me that Carlos was a victim of this unfair law and it made him angry that the state of Texas was going to kill him even though Carlos had never killed anyone. Ramsey wondered if there could ever be a movement to get this law abolished. He said other states had similar laws but as far as he knew, Texas was the only state that applied the death penalty to someone who may have been at the scene of a crime but was not the person who killed another person.

I think it was 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning before our non-stop conversations ended and we were told it was time. The guards took us out into the dark night and walked us into the prison. We were again searched and led through a winding series of hallways, outside and then back in again until we walked into a room where Carlos was strapped down on the gurney.

Neither Ramsey nor I knew what to expect but we were only a few feet apart as Carlos and Ramsey and I spoke together. And then as we were talking, I noticed Carlos’ chest had stopped moving and realized he was no longer breathing.

When we were finally outside in the air again, I thanked Ramsey for all the help he gave to Carlos and told him I appreciated his efforts. His last words to me that night were, “No, don’t thank me. I got to Carlos’ case after he was already convicted, and I was not able to bring any justice in Texas for Carlos. I thank you for being his friend all these years and for continuing to fight the death penalty.”

I didn’t see Ramey again until I went to a national demonstration for Cuba a few years later. I walked up to Ramsey and told him he probably didn’t remember me since he was such a busy person and involved in so many urgent issues, but I was Carlos Santana’s friend. He grabbed me and hugged me and said that of course he remembered me and would never forget me and the night we spent in Huntsville.

Ramsey knew that the criminal justice system had nothing to do with justice. He knew that a poor man from the Dominican Republic who barely spoke English when he was arrested, never had a chance. He loved Carlos and felt that the whole system was totally unfair. He told me that those who had no money rarely survived the criminal justice system.

I wish Ramsey was still with us so I could tell him that the Texas legislature just did away with the Law of Parties in capital cases and will even review all cases of those now on death row because of it. The governor has not signed it yet but it passed by quite a good margin and with a bipartisan effort, so it is anticipated that it will be signed and made into law.

Whether it was the horrors against the people of a whole country like Iraq or the horrors that are part of what is called a criminal justice system in the U.S., Ramsey truly felt the pain inflicted by this government on so many, in our prisons and jails and around the world.