Texas inmate set to die for slaying mother, child
7 weeks after a court reprieve kept him alive, condemned killer Derrick
Sonnier was set for a return trip to the Texas death house.
Sonnier, 40, was scheduled for lethal injection Wednesday evening for the
slayings of a suburban Houston woman and her 2-year-old son almost 17
Melody Flowers, 27, was stabbed, strangled and beaten with a hammer until
the handle of the tool snapped. Her young son, Patrick, was stabbed 8
times. Their bodies were dumped in a bathtub.
Sonnier would be the 3rd Texas inmate to die this year and the 13th
Executions were on hold around the country for more than seven months
until the U.S. Supreme Court in April rejected an appeal from two Kentucky
prisoners who argued lethal injection was unconstitutionally cruel.
Now Sonnier is among at least 16 prisoners with execution dates including
6 in August in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state
On June 3, Sonnier was waiting in a small holding cell a few steps from
the death chamber when he received word the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals had stopped his punishment about 90 minutes before he could have
been put to death. Attorneys with the Texas Defender Service, a legal
group that represents death row prisoners, had raised questions whether
the state's lethal injection procedures were legal.
The following week, the same court rejected the appeal and a judge in
Harris County set his new death date for Wednesday.
No appeals were filed this time to try to save him.
"We are not going to be filing anything on his behalf at this point,"
Maurie Levin, a University of Texas law professor who works with the Texas
Defender Service, said Monday.
Sonnier, who described himself as a "moorish American" on a Web site where
death row inmates seek pen pals, declined to speak with reporters in the
weeks preceding his execution dates.
Sonnier lived 2 apartments away from the victims. Police knocking on doors
found him with his hand wrapped in a bloody towel. Inside his place they
found other bloodstained towels and a blouse identified as belonging to
Flowers. DNA evidence also tied him to the slayings although Sonnier
maintained his innocence during his trial.
Testimony showed the Sulphur, Louisiana, native grew up in Houston, had
been obsessed with Flowers and had stalked her. Witnesses testified how
they repeatedly chased him away from her place where he was known to peek
through her windows and even hide inside her apartment.
(source: Associated Press)
Perry has chance to show another side of Texas justice—-Governor should
honor U.S. commitment to treaty terms
Last Wednesday's decision by the International Court of Justice, the World
Court, ordering the stay of the executions of several Mexican inmates in
Texas, pending review and reconsideration of their convictions, was the
right thing to do. Before Gov. Rick Perry rejects this decision out of
hand, he would do well to consider how defiance of the World Court ruling
will affect the safety of Americans abroad who rely on the same treaty
protections that Texas violated in these cases. Gov. Perry and the Texas
Board of Pardons and Paroles should concur with the World Court and order
a reprieve of the executions until those convictions are reviewed and
In 2005, President Bush ordered state courts to review and reconsider the
capital convictions of Mexican citizens who were listed in the World Court
judgment and who were arrested and convicted without being told that they
had the right to contact any of dozens of Mexican consulates throughout
the country. This order was in response to a World Court decision which
said that the United States was not in compliance with a treaty that the
U.S. government signed saying that, among other things, U.S. law
enforcement would see to it that arrests of foreigners will be reported to
their nations' consulates in an appropriate time.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was a treaty that the United
States entered into purposely, willingly and enthusiastically. Why?
Because American citizens need to have access to American consular
officials if they are ever arrested in a foreign country.
American officials can provide a number of services for Americans in
trouble to assure proper and fair treatment. And on countless occasions,
U.S. consular officials have interceded with foreign authorities to
protect the rights of wrongly detained Americans. But in order to secure
this access for Americans traveling abroad, the United States had to
ensure that it would provide access for foreigners in the United States.
This is what it did in signing and ratifying the treaty.
Our good faith goes a long way in securing the good faith of other
nations. This is not a capitulation of sovereignty, as has been suggested
by agenda-pushing commentators. Indeed, it is the ultimate exercise of
sovereignty for the United States to accept treaty obligations which will
benefit Americans abroad.
Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national, took his conviction and
sentence of execution to the United States Supreme Court to get that body
to enforce the World Court decision so that he could get a review and
reconsideration of his 1994 conviction for one of the most shocking and
despicable murders in recent Houston history.
Far from a sympathetic figure, Medellin was convicted for the rape and
murder of Elizabeth Pena, a young teenage girl whose friend Jennifer
Ertman was killed by Medellin's friends. He was convicted of doing so, and
bragging about it later, after a night of drinking during a gang
initiation ceremony, according to news reports in 1993. Very little
exculpatory evidence has been found, and few people believe that his
conviction was a miscarriage of justice except for the fact that police
officers did not give Medellin the opportunity to be in contact with his
consulate and notify it of his arrest, a requirement under the treaty.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision and an opinion
written by Chief Justice John Roberts, rejected the argument that the
World Court's decision should be automatically enforced in the United
States judicial system. That view was based upon a series of analytical
legal arguments surrounding the role of the president to issue such an
order, and whether or not a treaty binding the United States to adhere to
the World Court's ruling is enforceable in the absence of congressional
All 9 members of the Supreme Court agreed that the United States does have
an obligation under the treaty to provide access to national consulates
for foreigners arrested here, even though members disagreed as to whether
rights created by the treaty were enforceable in U.S. courts.
Lawyers representing Texas in the Supreme Court agreed with the Bush
administration that the United States does have an international
obligation to comply with the World Court's opinion; they just disagreed
as to how that obligation should be enforced. No credible legal
commentators dispute the basic holding of the World Court that rights were
created and that the United States, by the failure of local law
enforcement to provide access to national consulates, was in violation of
the treaty. By his order, the president sought to shore up our credibility
on the matter.
Under the Constitution, Congress and the president decide the foreign
policy of the United States; and in this case, the president decided that
the United States would comply with the World Court's judgment.
There is no doubt in this case that President Bush took into account the
need to show good faith toward foreign nationals to protect the interests
of American nationals, even if it meant granting a convicted murderer like
Medellin a review and reconsideration of his conviction.
And such a review would simply determine whether Medellin and other
Mexican nationals on death row got what they would have gotten in terms of
access to justice had police officers followed the treaty.
Would such a process result in overturning the verdict? Possibly so, just
like any other reversal of a capital conviction by a higher court calling
for a review and reconsideration in our domestic court system. But then
again, an exoneration of Medellin and the others mentioned in the World
Court's judgment is not likely, as the Texas state courts would conduct
the review of the earlier conviction as severely as this state's judicial
branch's reputation would require. Chances are that neither Medellin nor
others will escape the death penalty.
Texas has an opportunity now to set all of this right without sacrificing
its view of the role of international court judgments in its courts and
the courts of other states as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Perry can order a
temporary reprieve of execution while the Texas Legislature produces
legislation allowing review and reconsideration of the convictions. Such
legislation is already before the U.S. Congress. In our great democracy,
passing such laws cannot be done without full debate and consideration.
Given the issues at stake for all Americans, it is only right that
Congress and the Texas Legislature be given the opportunity to ensure our
nation lives up to the promises it made to its treaty partners.
By granting a reprieve, Gov. Perry and the Board of Pardons will enhance
the reputation of Texas and the United States throughout the world.
That may not mean much to some, but to the American missionary, teacher or
tourist in Central Asia, in East Asia, Africa or the Middle East or
elsewhere, it just might mean a lot.
(source: Viewpoints, Houston Chronicle—-Ellis, a Democrat, represents
Texas Senate District 13 in Houston. Jackson is a professor of law at the
Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law and
co-director of the school's Institute for International and Immigration