Sunday, 14 October 2007

Death penalty case stirs discord

José Ernesto Medellin was sentenced to death in 1994.

Bush wants Texas to halt execution
By Mark Sherman, Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Texas wants President Bush to get out of the way of the state's plan to execute a Mexican man for the killing of two teenage girls.

Bush, who presided over 152 executions as governor of Texas, wants to halt the execution of José Ernesto Medellin in what has become a confusing test of presidential power that the Supreme Court ultimately will sort out.

The president wants to enforce a decision by the International Court of Justice that found the convictions of Medellin and 50 other Mexican-born prisoners violated their rights to legal help as outlined in the 1963 Vienna Convention.

That is the same court Bush has since said he plans to ignore if it makes similar decisions affecting state criminal laws.
"The president does not agree with the ICJ's interpretation of the Vienna Convention," the administration said in arguments filed with the court. This time, though, the United States agreed to abide by the international court's decision because ignoring it would harm American interests abroad, the government said.

Texas officials maintain that neither the international court nor Bush, his Texas ties notwithstanding, has any say in Medellin's case.
Ted Cruz, the Texas solicitor general, said the administration's position would "allow the president to set aside any state law the president believes is inconvenient to international comity."

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Wednesday. Foreign inmates on death rows in California, Florida, Texas, and up to a dozen other states could be affected by the outcome.
Medellin was born in Mexico but spent much of his childhood in the United States. He was 18 in June 1993 when he and other members of the Black and Whites gang in Houston encountered Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena on a railroad trestle as the girls were taking a shortcut home.

Ertman, 14, and Pena, 16, were gang-raped and strangled. Their bodies were found four days later.
Medellin was arrested a few days after the killings. He was told he had a right to remain silent and have a lawyer present, but police did not tell him that he could request assistance from the Mexican consulate under the 1963 treaty.

Medellin gave a written confession. He was convicted of murder in the course of a sexual assault, a capital offense in Texas. A judge sentenced him to death in October 1994. Medellin did not raise the lack of assistance from Mexican diplomats during his trial or sentencing. When he contended that his rights had been violated, Texas and federal courts turned him down because he had not objected at his trial.

Then, in 2003, Mexico sued the United States in the International Court of Justice in The Hague on behalf of Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on death row in the United States who also had been denied access to their country's diplomats after their arrests.

Mexico has no death penalty. Mexico and other opponents of capital punishment have sought to use the court, also known as the World Court, to fight for foreigners facing execution in the United States. The international court ruled for Mexico in 2004, saying US courts should review sentences and convictions.

Medellin's case was rejected by the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal. While it was pending, Bush issued a memo to his attorney general declaring that state courts must enforce the international court's ruling.

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