(Update: August 6: Jose Medellin was executed at 10 p.m. CST at Huntsville, Texas: Update: August 5, 9 p.m.: The Supreme Court has decided to review the request of Jose Medellin’s appeal for a stay. As such, his execution scheduled for 6 p.m. today has been postponed.)
LatinaLista — At 6 p.m. this evening, death row inmate Jose Medellin will be put to death for his confessed part in a brutal gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston in 1993. Jose’s brother, who was 14 at the time and also a part of the same gang, is already serving a 40-year-sentence for his part.
Elizabeth Pena, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 14, were brutally raped and murdered by Jose Medellin and other gang members in Houston, TX for which Medellin will be put to death in Texas on Aug. 5, 2008.
By all accounts, what Jose, his brother and other members of that gang did to these girls was savage and sadistic. There’s no excuse for it — then or now. Not even claims of youthful stupidity can justify the torture these girls endured for only being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Each of these guys deserves to be behind bars for a long, long, long time.
Yet, an ongoing international debate has elevated this horrendous murder case into the poster child of legal cases when it comes to respecting international treaties and dealing with foreign-born criminals.
The ensuing conversation has lead to the question: Should the death sentence of Jose Medellin be delayed in order to comply with international protocol or should death by lethal injection continue as planned this evening?
The answer is an easy one.
The legal battle surrounding Jose Medellin has nothing to do with altering his guilty conviction in the murders of both girls. In fact, if he were tried again for the same offense, the same verdict would most probably be delivered.
Yet, what Medellin is benefiting from, along with other Mexicans on death row, is the fact that their lawyers and our judicial system failed to provide these people with “legal courtesies” as outlined in international treaties.
According to the mandates of the Vienna Convention, foreign-born people who have been arrested must have access to their home country’s consular officials. Nothing more and nothing less.
It’s something that we are certainly diligent in providing Americans who find themselves in the same situations abroad. It doesn’t mean that we are exonerating them of their crimes but we are providing them with advice on what their legal rights are, as well as, legal assistance.
The same is expected of each country for its citizens abroad. It’s been recognized that this was not done for Medellin and the other Mexican death row inmates. So, a ruling was passed by the International Court of Justice or World Court, that said in part:
1. Whereas in its Application Mexico states that in paragraph 153 (9) of the Avena Judgment the Court found “that the appropriate reparation in this case consists in the obligation of the United States of America to provide, by means of its own choosing, review and reconsideration of the convictions and sentences of the Mexican nationals” mentioned in the Judgment, taking into account both the violation of the rights set forth in Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (hereinafter “the Vienna Convention”) and paragraphs 138 to 141 of the Judgment; whereas it is alleged that “requests by the Mexican nationals for the review and reconsideration mandated in their cases by the Avena Judgment have repeatedly been denied”;
2. Whereas Mexico claims that, since the Court delivered its Judgment in the Avena case, “[o]nly one state court has provided the required review and consideration, in the case of Osvaldo Torres Aguilera”, adding that, in the case of Rafael Camargo Ojeda, the State of Arkansas “agreed to reduce Mr. Camargo’s death sentence to life imprisonment in exchange for his agreement to waive his right to review and reconsideration under the Avena Judgment”; and whereas, according to Mexico, “[a]ll other efforts to enforce the Avena Judgment have failed”;
3. Whereas it is explained in the Application that, on 28 February 2005, the President of the United States of America (hereinafter the “United States”), George W. Bush, issued a Memorandum (also referred to by the Parties as a “determination”); whereas it is stated in the Application that the President’s Memorandum determined that state courts must provide the required review and reconsideration to the 51 Mexican nationals named in the Avena Judgment, including Mr. MedellÃn, notwithstanding any state procedural rules that might otherwise bar review of their claims;
Nowadays, such a ruling from the World Court seems to carry weight in Washington and President Bush wants to comply and has asked that each state, that holds a Mexican national on death row, to review their case. However, it’s our own Supreme Court that is now disregarding international law and has ruled that Texas doesn’t have to comply with the World Court ruling and can go ahead and on schedule.
The only way to stop today’s death sentence is for the Governor of Texas to grant a reprieve and in a state that is known for putting the most inmates to death, and Medellin’s happens to be the first of two scheduled this week, it is highly unlikely that Texas will pay attention to the World Court ruling.
A last ditch effort by Medellin’s lawyers to get their client more time by requesting a reprieve and the chance to file new appeals was turned down on Monday by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Also, the Pardons and Parole Board turned down a request on the same day from Medellin’s lawyers to commute his sentence to a life sentence and to have a 240-day reprieve.
Critics accuse Medellin’s lawyers of just trying anything to save their client and, as lawyers, they’re doing their job. The unfortunate aspect is that no one paid attention to international treaty protocol when they knew they were dealing with foreign-born nationals.
The natural assumption is that Medellin’s lawyers hoped that by getting the Mexican government involved, the death sentence would be commuted since Mexico is against the death penalty and their involvement would carry more weight than the lawyers’ own request to the Pardons and Parole Board to commute the sentence to life.
But the Texas governor refuses to spend anymore time reviewing the Medellin case and it’s proceeding as planned this evening. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico sent out an alert to all Americans living in Mexico to avoid any protests that might be happening in Mexico regarding the Medellin case.
The major newspapers of Mexico are making the story frontpage news, quoting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s admonishment of US policy by saying that as a member of the United Nations, the United States has an obligation to obey the decisions of the International Court of Justice.
And why don’t we?
Medellin has been behind bars for 15 years, what difference does a few more weeks or months make? Sure, Mexico and Medellin’s lawyers would try and get the sentence commuted to life in prison. The sad thing is, too few people in Texas have not learned that living behind bars for life, with no chance of parole, is a far worse sentence than being put to death, but in the end, either way, Medellin stays behind bars.
What does Texas get out of putting a guy to death today versus next month or confining him to life in prison? It may immediately appease the families of those poor girls but when it comes to the global forum of international justice, Texas’ action endangers all US citizens who travel abroad and must rely on their host country honoring the Vienna Convention rulings to ensure they receive fair justice.
Not to mention, Texas’ action further soils the international perception of this country that is increasingly seen as one that doesn’t honor international treaties or global opinion and is intent on flaunting how it carries out its own brand of justice.
It’s no wonder that the United States garners such little global respect these days, especially in light of an opportunity to turn a new leaf in international relations and show that we can be a team player.
All it takes is cooperation.