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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Longest-Serving U.S. Death Row Inmate’s Sentence Overturned After 45 Years

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A Texas court on Wednesday vacated the sentence of 70-year-old Raymond Riles, who has been on death row since 1976, ruling that the jury that convicted him in 1976 wasn’t made adequately aware of his mental state.

Key Facts

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Riles must have a new punishment proceeding in Harris County, noting the jury instruction at Riles’ trial was “harmful” since the jury was not asked to consider mental health as a mitigating factor.

Riles and another man, Herbert Washington, were both convicted in the killing of a used car salesman in 1974 after an argument over the condition of a car they bought.

Riles’ execution dates have been rescheduled numerous times as courts have continually ruled he was not mentally fit to be put to death, leaving him languishing on death row for longer than any other U.S. prisoner.

His time in prison has been marked by unstable behavior, including bizarre religious claims that he is the Messiah—calling himself “King Moto-Cherry Velt-Love”—and is worried his jailers plan to sacrifice him to the devil.

Riles also once attacked a judge during a hearing and purposely set himself on fire in 1985.

Crucial Quote

The court affirmed there was significant witness evidence at Riles’ trial showing he was insane, noting, “These witnesses collectively testified that Applicant was often psychotic and had suffered for some time from some type of schizophrenia.”

Key Background

Riles’ lengthy sentence and his health condition have gained wider attention as of late, especially after Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg joined the effort earlier this year for Riles to get a new punishment hearing. Ogg called the case “heartbreaking because the process takes so long,” while arguing Riles should be given a life sentence and live with the general prison population. Since 1976, Texas has carried out more than five times as many executions than the next closest state, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.


Former President Donald Trump reinstated the federal death penalty in 2020 after a 17-year pause on federal executions. The federal government carried out over 13 executions—many during Trump’s final days in office—leading to Trump overseeing more executions than any president in over 120 years, according to The Associated Press.

Further Reading

He’s Too Mentally Ill to Execute. Why Is He Still on Death Row After 45 Years? (The Marshall Project)

Longest-serving death row inmate should get new punishment hearing, said Harris Co. DA (KTRK-TV)

Trump administration carries out 13th and final execution (The Associated Press)

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