Candidate to Convict

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Former third-party gubernatorial candidate now serves a life sentence in jail.

    Ramsey Muniz received 214,149 votes as a third-party candidate in Texas's 1972 gubernatorial race. Almost 22 years later, he received a life sentence for drug charges.

    Now the candidate turned convict, 67, spends his days in a federal prison hoping a last-ditch effort to free him will succeed before it's too late.

    Muniz has been a political activist, a Hispanic leader, a gubernatorial candidate, a high school and college football star, a drug felon, a bail jumper, a fugitive and now, at the end of his life, aging inmate number 40288-115. A series of federal drug convictions culminated in a 1994 life sentence without parole for charges of possession and intent to distribute cocaine.

    Since his incarceration, he has been the subject of an intense effort to get him out of prison. His wife, Irma Muniz, and the League of United Latin American Citizens have lobbied presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to commute his sentence. Supporters say they are frustrated, but won't give up the fight.

    "You just keep trying with the legal system," Irma Muniz said. "Just because something is impossible today doesn't mean someone can't find a way to fix it tomorrow."

    Although Muniz denied a request to be interviewed for this story, he said in a letter that, "the offenses alleged against me do not morally or legally justify my death sentence, which is life without parole."

    "Whether he is guilty or not, he has served his time," said Rosa Rosales, LULAC's immediate past national president who still sits on the board of directors.

    Rosales, whose four year term ended in July, said Irma Muniz was a strong advocate in gaining LULAC's support.

    The organization also supports helping former prisoners become productive members of society and Rosales said Muniz also deserves that chance.

    "Many other people have gotten presidential pardons -- why not him?" Rosales said, adding that regardless of whether she is LULAC's president, the organization will continue to support Muniz.

    The case that put Muniz behind bars for good seemed pretty clear cut to authorities. The former candidate already had two felony drug convictions on his record when he was arrested in 1994 after Drug Enforcement Agency officers observed him parking a car containing 90 pounds of cocaine.

    Muniz said he did not know there were drugs in the car and was driving it only because a man he was helping find an attorney asked him to return it to a rental company, said Dick DeGuerin, Muniz's former defense attorney.

    A jury didn't buy it. Because of federal sentencing guidelines, Muniz received life in prison without parole.

    "Muniz was lawfully convicted and sentenced and the conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal," John Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern district of Texas, said.

    Jose Gutierrez, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, said Muniz had a tremendous impact on the Latino community before his legal troubles began.

    Gutierrez met Muniz in 1970 when the future professor was helping organize for a new political party, La Raza Unida. His charisma and passion for the issues convinced party leaders that he would make a good candidate for governor.

    Dolph Briscoe, a Democrat, won that election, but Muniz received 6 percent of the vote.

    After another unsuccessful run in 1976, Muniz, a Baylor law school graduate, opened a firm in Corpus Christi. But then came his arrest on charges of conspiracy to smuggle over three tons of marijuana from Mexico in 1976. Gutierrez said Muniz claimed he had been set up.

    But instead of defending himself in court, Muniz pleaded guilty and jumped bail. He was caught in Mexico after a month on the run and was returned to the U.S., where he served five years in prison.

    "(Muniz) says he was framed but he didn't fight," Gutierrez said.

    He was out on parole for his 1976 conviction when he was arrested again in a hotel room in Houston in 1982 for charges of possession of a small amount of cocaine, DeGuerin said. The arrest led to Muniz serving two years for violating his parole.

    "People choose their options and he chose his and has to live with it," Gutierrez said.

    His wife and supporters, however, maintain his innocence.

    Irma and Ramsey Muniz were married for 10 years before he was incarcerated. She said she knew of his criminal record and that she never believed he was guilty of the crimes.

    She said not only was he a family man and hard worker, he was a man who had put his past behind him and was moving forward and happy.

    "He did not do it, he is not guilty. There is no doubt in my mind," Irma Muniz said.