Texas Execution Sets off International Dispute

Spanish Translation available upon request, info@tcadp.org

(Dallas, TX)— The impending execution of Mr. Jose Medellin has set off an international dispute and a U.S. Supreme Court rebuke of the White House. The pending execution of Jose Medellín in Texas threatens to put the United States into irrevocable breach of its undisputed international obligations, damaging our national reputation as a reliable player in the international community and threatening the security of individual Americans abroad – travelers, missionaries, businesspeople, students, or any other American citizen who is in a foreign country for any reason. Mr. Medellin, a foreign national, will be the 1116th U.S. execution since the death penalty was re-legalized in 1976, the 410th Texas execution, and the 171st execution since Rick Perry became governor in 2001.

The Supreme Court refused to hear Mr. Medellin’s appeal in March, saying that President Bush overstepped his authority by ordering Texas to reopen his case and the cases of 50 other Mexican nationals condemned for murders in the U.S. Texas officials refused to comply with Bush’s demands. During the 6 years that President Bush served as Texas governor, 152 inmates were executed in the Texas death chamber, the nation’s leading executioner.

Mr. Medellin was never advised by Texas authorities of his right as a detained foreign national to seek consular assistance, as required under article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). With the violation of the treaty, Mr. Medellin was deprived of the extensive assistance that Mexico provides for the defense of its citizens facing capital charges in the U.S. The Mexican Consulate did not learn about the case until nearly four years after Mr. Medellin’s arrest, which was after the trial, the initial appeal affirming his conviction, and the death sentence had been granted.

An investigation funded by the Mexican Consulate has found that Mr. Medellin grew up in an abject poverty environment in Mexico and was exposed to gang violence after he arrived in Houston where he joined his parents when he was nine years old. He has also suffered from depression, suicidal tendencies and alcohol dependency. If his trial lawyers had consulted with the Mexican consulate, experts and investigators could have been retained to present the full range of mitigating evidence to the sentencing jury. Pretrial monitoring by the Consulate could have exposed and remedied the inadequate legal representation that Mr. Medellin was receiving.

During the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Medellin’s case, his court-appointed lead lawyer was under a six-month suspension from practicing law for acting unethically in another case, according to the clemency petition. While the attorney was suspended, he continued to represent Mr. Medellin. Prior to the trial, the lawyer was held in contempt of court and arrested for violating his suspension. The attorney was spending time on his own case instead of preparing for his client’s defense.

Records indicate that the only investigator for the defense spent a total of eight hours on the case prior to the trial. The defense attorney failed to oppose the selection of jurors who indicated that they would automatically impose the death penalty and called no witnesses during the guilt phase of the trial.

On 14 July 2008, a bill known as the Avena Case Implementation Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Under its terms, José Medellín and other affected foreign nationals would be granted access to “appropriate remedies” through the domestic courts for VCCR violations, including the reversal “of the conviction or sentence, where appropriate.” The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for review, but insufficient time remains for it to be passed into law before Medellín’s scheduled execution. If the August 5th execution proceeds: In light of this execution and the failure of the United States to abide by its international commitments, it is more crucial than ever that Congress act quickly to restore the United States’ footing as a responsible and law-abiding leader of nations. This must happen before any additional executions proceed without the necessary judicial hearing, lest we risk additional damage to our international reputation and to the safety of Americans abroad. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the Texas Legislature when it reconvenes in early 2009.

On July16, 2008, the International Court of Justice issued “provisional measures” in the cases of José Medellín and four other Mexican nationals facing execution in Texas (the other four do not currently have execution dates). The ICJ ordered the United States “to take all measures necessary” to ensure that these individuals “are not executed… unless and until these five Mexican nationals receive review and reconsideration.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also issued “precautionary measures” calling on Texas not to execute José Medellín until the Commission has ruled on his petition asserting that he was deprived of a fair trial. The Avena case involves 51 Mexican nationals who did not receive consular access when they were arrested in the United States, in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a decision in a case filed by Mexico on their behalf and determined that each Mexican national was entitled to a judicial hearing to ascertain whether he was harmed by the violation of his Vienna Convention rights. The ICJ is the agreed-upon arbiter of international disagreements such as this one. In the vast majority of cases, the U.S. has failed to provide the judicial hearings mandated by the ICJ’s 2004 judgment.

The Bush Administration and every Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court agree that the U.S. has an international legal obligation to comply with the Avena judgment, and Congress has prepared legislation to implement that judgment.

Mr. Medellin is scheduled to die for his participation in the 1993 gang rape and strangulation deaths of 2 teenage girls, Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena, in Houston when they stumbled upon a gang initiation rite. It is a horrific crime and the perpetrators of the crime must be held responsible for their actions, however Medellín has not received the judicial review mandated by the ICJ; his execution without that review would result in an irrevocable breach of international law.

Dr. Rick Halperin, President of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, decried the execution stating, “Despite the horrific nature of the crime, the state should not be resorting to using another act of homicidal violence to enact what it labels as “justice”. The willful disregard of international Vienna Convention rights endangers all Americans everywhere in the world.”