By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) -A Texas inmate at the center of a legal battle over religious rights of condemned prisoners in the United States was put to death on Wednesday for the 2004 stabbing murder of a convenience store clerk.
John Henry Ramirez was pronounced dead at 6:41 p.m. central time in the state's death chamber in Huntsville, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a written statement.
Ramirez won through the U.S. Supreme Court the right to have his Christian pastor lay hands on him and audibly pray as he died by lethal injection. It was not immediately clear if that took place.
Ramirez, 38, was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi during a robbery in 2004 that netted him $1.25.
Ramirez in his final words said he had "regret and remorse" over his deeds and told the Castro family that he hoped his execution would help them find closure.
The execution took place seven months after the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Ramirez's favor in his case against the state of Texas, which rejected his request for pastoral touch and prayer while he dies.
The case centered on religious protections under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and a 2000 federal law that requires officials to show a compelling interest to deny a prisoner's religious-based request and to do so using the least restrictive means.
Texas argued that the presence of a pastor in the execution chamber could compromise security. The state also said that outsiders touching inmates could disrupt intravenous lines, and audible prayer could interfere with officials' ability to monitor for signs of distress.
Ramirez was sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of Castro, a father of nine who worked nights at a convenience store in the southern Texas city of Corpus Christi. Seeking money to buy drugs, Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times and made off with $1.25 on July 19, 2004, prosecutors said.
Ramirez has been a member of the Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. Pastor Dana Moore has regularly driven about 300 miles (480 km) north to Livingston to pray with Ramirez in prison.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool)