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Despite Warnings, Virginia Executes Paraguayan Citizen

Law: Prisoner's death could put Americans abroad and international rules at risk, secretary of State cautioned.

April 15, 1998|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The governor of Virginia refused Tuesday night to block the execution of a 32-year-old Paraguayan citizen, brushing aside a warning from U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that the case could undermine international justice and endanger American citizens traveling abroad.

Minutes after Gov. James S. Gilmore III rejected clemency, Angel Francisco Breard was executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Jarratt, about 55 miles south of Richmond, the capital.

The governor said Breard "was convicted and sentenced to death for the attempted rape and brutal murder" of a 39-year-old neighbor, Ruth Dickie, in 1992. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene Tuesday.

The case attracted international attention because Breard was never informed of his right to receive diplomatic assistance from the Paraguayan Embassy, as required by the Vienna Convention, a cornerstone of international law.

Police in the Washington suburb of Arlington, where the crime took place, admitted that they had not provided diplomatic access to Breard before he--over objections from his own lawyers--testified at his trial. The lawyers had hoped to cut a deal for a life sentence.

The 15-judge International Court of Justice in The Hague last week urged the Commonwealth of Virginia to postpone the execution to give that tribunal a chance to review the case. But the U.S. Supreme Court held that the international court, an arm of the United Nations, has no jurisdiction in a state criminal matter.

Besides, a majority of the U.S. justices said, even if Breard had been allowed to contact Paraguayan diplomats, the result of the case would not have been different.

Gilmore, referring to the international court as a "foreign tribunal," said the body had no authority to interfere with the system of justice in Virginia. Besides, he said, "it is my understanding that the international court's proceeding could take years to reach conclusion."

Albright agreed that Breard was convicted of a "heinous" crime. But she said his execution could damage international rules that work to the benefit of all Americans traveling abroad.

If the world's only remaining superpower ignores a key part of international law, Albright said, other nations may decide that they too can pick and choose among the rules they plan to follow.

"It is very important . . . to assure ourselves that our citizens, were they to find themselves in any trouble whatsoever abroad, that they also would be accorded their rights," Albright said in response to a question after a speech Tuesday at Howard University in Washington.

"There are a lot of Americans that travel abroad who sometimes get into trouble and who need . . . our consular officers to visit them if they have been jailed unjustly, or even if they've been jailed justly," she said.

Washington routinely invokes the Vienna Convention when Americans are arrested in China, Mexico, Turkey and other countries.

Albright made the same case more formally on Monday in a letter to Gilmore.

"The execution of Mr. Breard in the present circumstances could lead some countries to contend incorrectly that the U.S. does not take seriously its obligations under the convention," Albright wrote.

In a written statement announcing his decision, Gilmore noted that "the concerns expressed by the secretary of State are due great respect, and I have given them serious consideration."

But he added: "My first duty is to ensure that those who reside within our borders . . . may conduct their lives free from the fear of crime."

After lengthy deliberations that ended just 30 minutes before the scheduled execution, the U.S. Supreme Court refused, by a 6-3 vote, to intervene in the case, saying the decision was Gilmore's alone.

"If the governor wishes to wait for the decision of the [international court], that is his prerogative," the Supreme Court said. "But nothing in our existing case law allows us to make that choice for him."

Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, saying the execution should be delayed to give the court time to consider the underlying issues.

Earlier in the day, Paraguay's state prosecutor's office issued a statement saying the case "does not only affect a Paraguayan citizen but the fundamental right to life held by every human being."

The statement repeated Paraguay's appeal for clemency.

But Gilmore said Breard "received all the procedural safeguards that any American citizen would receive."

Breard's execution had been scheduled for 9 p.m. EDT. The Supreme Court's lengthy deliberation and Gilmore's consideration of the issue pushed the execution back more than 90 minutes. The prisoner was pronounced dead at 10:39 p.m. EDT.

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