Federal officials try to block Texas execution to allow world court review
14 years and numerous judicial reviews have passed since Jos Medellin was
sentenced to die after confessing to the brutal gang rape and murder of
two teenage girls in Houston.
That's long enough, state officials say. It's time to carry out the
But defense attorneys, and an unusual coalition of federal officials,
including no less than the attorney general and secretary of state, say if
his Aug. 5 execution is not stayed, so Mr. Medellin's case can be reviewed
one more time at the behest of the International Court of Justice, Texas
will be rushing to judgment and endangering Americans abroad.
"Put simply, the United States seeks the help of the State of Texas,"
Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
wrote Texas Gov. Rick Perry in a letter released by defense attorneys.
Federal authorities are scrambling to bring the U.S. into compliance with
the Vienna Convention, a treaty signed decades ago giving jurisdiction to
the world court in cases concerning consular access. The world court first
called for additional review for dozens of Mexican citizens condemned to
die without access to their consular officials in 2004 and repeated the
call in another decision July 16.
"We respectfully request that Texas take the steps necessary to give
effect to the …decision," the June letter says.
President Bush tried to resolve the issue three years ago by ordering
states to review the cases of 51 Mexican nationals on death row, including
Mr. Medellin, as directed by the International Court. But the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled earlier this year that Mr. Bush overstepped his authority and
that individual states are not bound by the international court decision.
The Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for Harris County prosecutors to
seek an execution date for Mr. Medellin.
But 2 weeks ago, a bill was introduced in Congress by Reps. Howard Berman,
D-California, and Zoe Lofgren, D-California, to require states to come
into compliance with the International Court order. Defense attorneys and
officials are pushing to delay Mr. Medellin's execution until that bill
can be considered.
"Texas has an obligation to abide by this commitment of the United States
just like everybody else, and Texas should allow Congress an adequate time
to pass the legislation," said Donald Donovan, Mr. Medellin's attorney.
Concern about the impending execution and its possible ramifications is so
high that a group of state department officials traveled to Texas to lobby
the governor's general counsel. Some international law experts say
Americans traveling abroad who are arrested may suffer if the U.S. does
not abide by the treaty.
But Gov. Perry remains resolute. Spokesman Robert Black admits the federal
government has "a big sort of dilemma" because the United States as a
whole is obligated to abide by international treaty obligations, but
individual states are not.
Still, "the governor isn't feeling any pressure on this simply because he
is here to uphold the laws of the state of Texas and not some foreign
court in Europe," he said.
"Two young girls were brutally gang raped and murdered, and the governor
is not willing to say that any foreign national is going to get any
additional protection under the law than a Texas citizen would," Mr. Black
Mr. Medellin, 33, was afforded the same rights in his case, including a
court-appointed attorney, as any American citizen. In 1994, he was
convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering Elizabeth Pena, 16. Another
girl, Jennifer Ertman, 14, was also raped and murdered. The girls stumbled
into a gang initiation.
Despite the horrific nature of the crime, defense attorney Donovan said it
"would be fundamentally unjust" for Gov. Perry to not respect the
commitment made under the treaty "by the American people as a whole."
"In Texas, like the rest of the United States, a deal is a deal," he said.
And, he added, Americans overseas could face consequences. "I think the
people of Texas, just like the rest of the American people, would not want
Texas to do anything that would jeopardize the safety of Americans living,
traveling, and working abroad."
Despite Mr. Perry's determination not to halt the execution, Mr. Donovan
seems confident the lethal injection will be stopped. "For Texas to go
forward would be profoundly wrong," he said. "And we believe if Texas
insists on going forward with this execution that a Texas court or a
federal court will step in, including the Supreme Court."
Others doubt the political pressure or legal maneuvers will have much
effect at either the state or national level.
"There may be some attempt at having a political solution but Texas will
be a very reluctant partner in that," said Dr. Kimi King, a lawyer and
associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas.
She believes the August execution will proceed "because there's simply too
great of a political culture inside Texas that is supportive of the death
penalty, and there is more mileage to be gained from opposing the request
to stay it than there would be in trying to support it."
Chuck Cooper, a Washington attorney who filed a brief supporting Texas in
the Medellin Supreme Court case, said he doubted Congressional efforts
would amount to much either. He could see "some fringe California
congressman offering a bill to do this," he said, "but I can't imagine
Congress as a whole passing a statute."
Treaty obligations are important, Mr. Cooper said, but "the obligation to
fulfill treaty requirements simply gives way when it would violate
(source: Dallas Morning News)