DALLAS — Hispanic rights activist and political pioneer Ramsey Muniz, who was sentenced to life without parole in 1994 on a drug conviction, has been released from prison after years of intense efforts by family and supporters to free him.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons says Muniz was released from the Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, on Dec. 10. His trial attorney, Dick DeGuerin of Houston, says the 75-year-old former La Raza Unida Party candidate for governor is in poor health and spends his days in bed or a wheelchair.
DeGuerin said the life sentence was mandatory under federal law because the 1994 felony drug conviction was his third. His release was on compassionate grounds under federal supervision.
"Of course, he'll be at home with his wife, but it also means the prison system was tired of losing money" on his care, DeGuerin said.
Muniz was a lawyer and administrator with the Waco Model Cities Program when the fledgling La Raza Unida Party reached out to him to run in 1972 and 1974 against Democratic incumbent Dolph Briscoe. La Raza Unida sought greater economic, social, and political self-determination to Mexican Americans in the state.
Briscoe was re-elected with 55 percent of the vote, but Muniz took a little over 6 percent of the vote. Even though Muniz polled under 6 percent of the vote to Briscoe's 61 percent in 1974, it was seen as enough to decide future close elections.
"It kind of awakened the sleeping giant in Texas of the potential strength Hispanic voters had," DeGuerin said. He said he believed that strength made Muniz a perceived threat to the established order.
He was arrested and accused in 1976 of conspiring to smuggle 6,500 pounds of marijuana from Mexico. After fleeing to Mexico and being recaptured, he served five years in a federal penitentiary, crushing the La Raza Unida Party as a political force in Texas.
He worked as a paralegal after his release, only to serve two more years in prison after pleading no contest in 1982 to possessing cocaine. He had returned to paralegal work when he was arrested again in 1994 near Dallas.
Since then, supporters had been campaigning for his release, including petitioning President Barack Obama for a pardon.