Monday, August 4, 2008

Texas set to defy World Court with execution

By Ed Stoddard

DALLAS (Reuters) - Texas is set to defy the World Court and anger Mexico on Tuesday by executing a Mexican national who was not informed of his right to consular services after his arrest.

Texas, by far America's most active death penalty state, condemned Jose Medellin for the 1993 rape and murder of 16-year-old Elizabeth Pena in Houston. Another girl was killed in the vicious gang-related assault but Medellin was convicted only of Pena's murder.

The World Court last month ordered the U.S. government to "take all measures necessary" to halt the upcoming execution of five Mexicans until it makes a final judgment in a dispute over suspects' rights.

Medellin is the first of those scheduled to be put to death and the only one so far with a 2008 execution date, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Alison Castle, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Rick Perry, said the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles was considering the case and the governor would most likely make his decision based on its recommendation on Tuesday.

She emphasized the brutal nature of the crime.

"It's very important for the citizens of Texas to remember that Jose Medellin ... brutally and viciously gang raped, stomped, kicked, slashed, strangled and murdered two teenage girls in Houston," Castle said.

"The World Court has no jurisdiction here in Texas. We're concerned about following Texas law and that's what we're doing."

The row, which has strained relations between the United States and Mexico, centers on the fact that the United States failed to inform 51 Mexican citizens sentenced to die in U.S. jails of their right to consular assistance.

"The impact of ignoring this endangers Americans traveling abroad," said Victoria Palacios, a professor at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law in Dallas.


"If the world sees us ignoring the rights of foreign nationals arrested here, there is very little reason for them to recognize the rights of U.S. citizens."

She said the case also underscores the gulf between U.S. views of the death penalty and those elsewhere.

Capital punishment has wide political support in America, especially in Texas, which has executed more than 400 prisoners since the Supreme Court lifted a ban on the practice in 1976.

Political fall-out from the Medellin and related cases has reached the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court.

President George W. Bush directed Texas to comply with a World Court ruling in 2004 mandating review of the cases of Medellin and other Mexicans in U.S. prisons awaiting execution. The U.S. Supreme Court said in March Bush's action had exceeded his authority.

Support for the death penalty may be strong in Texas but opinion on the issue is by no means uniform. In a recent editorial, The Dallas Morning News urged the governor to halt Medellin's execution.

"Mr. Perry can flex the state's judicial muscle and show the world that Texans don't bow to the whims of some distant, obscure international court," it said. "But it would send an unequivocal message to all foreign governments -- especially Mexico -- that this country doesn't stand by its promises."

The June 1993 crime for which Medellin was condemned was chilling. According to the Texas Attorney General's office, Pena and her 14-year-old companion, Jennifer Ertman, were walking home when they encountered a gang initiation.

Medellin and his fellow gang members sexually assaulted, beat and strangled the two girls. When their badly decomposed bodies were finally recovered, they could only be identified by dental records.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Todd Eastham)