US ignores international law in order to carry out the execution of a Mexican national

August 6, 2008

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For immediate release Wednesday 6 August 2008

Reprieve has expressed outrage at the news that Mexican national José Medellín was executed yesterday in Texas despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) calling for a stay.

Medellín was convicted in 1994 for the gang rape and murders of two teenage girls, Elizabeth Peña and Jennifer Ertman, in Houston in 1993; he had just turned 18.

At the time of his arrest, Medellín was not informed of his right to consular assistance, neither was the Mexican government informed of his detention – a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) which has been signed and ratified by the USA. The treaty grants all foreign nationals arrested abroad a right to communicate with their consulate, to have the consulate notified of their detention, and to be informed of these rights without delay. Consulates have the right to communicate and visit with detained foreign nationals, to arrange for their legal representation and to assist in preserving the rights and interests of the detainee. Of the foreign nationals known to be on America’s death row the vast majority were not informed of their these rights, some of them not for many years after they were sentenced.

Had the Mexican government been aware of Medellín’s arrest it would have provided substantial assistance, just as it has for many other Mexican nationals facing the death penalty. For example, the consulate would have made sure he received adequate legal representation at trial – despite facing criminal charges, being suspended from practicing law and battling with health problems that resulted in his death shortly after Medellín’s trial, Medellín’s lawyer continued to represent him. Time that should have been spent defending his client was instead spent trying to keep himself out of jail – just four hours were spent on investigation prior to the commencement of jury selection.

Post conviction investigation, funded by Mexico, found that Medellín grew up in poverty and was exposed to gang violence at an early age. He also suffered from depression, suicidal tendencies and alcohol dependency. Had Mexico been informed of Medellín’s arrest in accordance with the VCCR, investigators would have been retained to present this mitigating evidence to a sentencing jury.

Mexico has sought to persuade the US to provide legal remedies to rectify violations of the VCCR for many years. It has filed numerous diplomatic protests, amicus briefs and clemency applications as well as a lawsuit against state authorities in Arizona. Despite this and a ruling by Inter-American Court of Human Rights in favour of the Mexican Government, the US continued to deny meaningful remedies for Mexican nationals sentenced to death.

In 2004 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered that the US review the cases of 51 Mexican nationals on death row. Following this decision the state of Oklahoma commuted the death sentence of Osbaldo Torres Aguilera to life imprisonment. Rafael Camargo, who was sentenced to death in Arkansas, also had his sentence commuted after prosecutors agreed to reduce his sentence to life in light of the ICJ decision. Furthermore President George W. Bush directed state courts to abide by the ICJ’s decision.

The state of Texas appealed to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in March of this year that Texas courts were not bound by the ICJ’s decision and that the President had overstepped his authority. Mexico then went back to the ICJ which called for a stay in the cases of Medellín and four other Mexican nationals. Despite representations being made by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Texas Governor Rick Perry refused to stay the execution – a spokesperson for the Governor stated “The truth is, Texas is not bound by a foreign court’s ruling.” Last night, in a 5-4 decision the US Supreme Court refused to delay the execution and Medellín was executed at 9.57 pm.

Reprieve’s director, Clive Stafford Smith, said “The state of Texas clearly has no regard for the Rule of Law; treaties between countries must be enforceable. Had José Medellín received assistance from the Mexican consulate following his arrest he would still be alive today.”

José Medellín is the 17th person to be executed in the US since executions resumed in May of this year. Heliberto Chi, another Mexican national is scheduled for execution in Texas on Thursday 7th August.

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