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U.S. broke obligations in Mexican's execution

The International Court of Justice says the U.S. violated its ruling ordering reviews of death-row cases involving Mexican citizens when Texas executed one of the convicts.

January 20, 2009|Ken Ellingwood

MEXICO CITY — The International Court of Justice ruled Monday that the United States violated its order last year when Texas proceeded with the execution of a Mexican national convicted of murder and rape.

The court, based in The Hague, said the United States remains bound by a 2004 ruling to review the cases of 51 Mexican citizens on death row despite its failure to do so in the past. That earlier decision said the United States violated the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by not advising the Mexican arrestees of their right to seek help from their nation's consular officials.

But in Monday's ruling, the court, also known as the World Court, rejected Mexico's request that it require that U.S. authorities provide a guarantee to review and reconsider each case.

Mexico formally outlawed the death penalty in 2005, and the execution of Mexicans for capital crimes in the United States is a hot-button issue here. Many Mexicans believe their countrymen are more likely to face the death penalty than U.S. citizens charged with the same crimes.

After Monday's ruling, Mexico called on the incoming Obama administration to ensure that the United States meets its obligations under international treaty to safeguard the rights of Mexican arrestees.

The ruling centered on the Aug. 5 execution of Jose Ernesto Medellin Rojas, convicted in the rape and murder of two teenage girls in 1993. Mexico sought to reopen all 51 remaining death-row convictions in hopes of winning new trials or getting charges dropped.

In 2005, President Bush directed Texas and other states to review death-row cases involving Mexican nationals in order to comply with the World Court ruling. But Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, refused to put off the Medellin execution, saying the World Court has "no standing in Texas."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Bush, saying he lacked authority on his own to force states to comply with an international treaty. In a last-ditch action, the World Court ordered that none of the five Mexican nationals facing imminent execution in Texas be executed until their cases could be reviewed under the 2004 ruling.

But Medellin was executed by lethal injection three weeks later.

U.S. government lawyers told the international court that the United States sought to comply, but could not control state courts.

In Monday's ruling, the court said "the United States breached the obligation incumbent upon it" when Medellin was put to death and is still bound by the 2004 decision.

Critics said the Medellin execution could leave Americans abroad vulnerable to being convicted or executed without being offered the chance to seek help from U.S. consular officials.

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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