Humberto Leal Garcia executed in Texas despite White House appeal

State governor Rick Perry rejects call from Barack Obama to spare Mexican's life to protect US interests abroad

Texas has executed a Mexican-born man after the US supreme court and the state's governor, Rick Perry, spurned appeals from Barack Obama to spare the convicted murderer's life in order to protect US interests abroad.

Humberto Leal Garcia was executed by lethal injection for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl despite appeals of senior diplomats, military officials and prominent politicians who said the execution could jeopardise the lives of Americans.

Shortly before Leal was led into the death chamber in Huntsville the supreme court rejected by 5-4 an appeal from the White House to block the execution on the grounds it was in breach of an international convention governing the treatment of foreigners who are arrested and would therefore do "irreparable harm" to America's interests.

Perry also declined to exercise his power to delay the execution by 30 days. His office argued that Leal was guilty of a heinous crime and deserved to die.

The Texas governor is a vigorous advocate of the death penalty. He has overseen the execution of more than 200 men and is on the brink of entering the US presidential race with strong support of conservatives who back capital punishment.

Perry's decision followed a rejection by the Texas board of pardons and paroles of Leal's request for a reprieve or commutation of his sentence.

Leal, a 38-year-old former mechanic, was convicted in 1994 of the rape and killing of Adria Sauceda, whose battered naked body was found hours after the pair left a street party together.

After his arrest, the Texas police failed to tell Leal, who was born in Mexico but has lived in the US since the age of two, that under the Vienna convention he was entitled to contact the Mexican consulate.

Leal's lawyers have argued that that had a material effect on whether he received the death penalty because he did not have swift access to legal representation which Mexican diplomats would have offered.

"There can be little doubt that if the government of Mexico had been allowed access to Mr Leal in a timely manner, he would not now be facing execution for a capital murder he did not commit," Leal's lawyers said in their appeal to the pardons board.

That position was backed by an international court of justice ruling which said that Leal and about 50 other Mexicans on death row in the US were not given their full legal rights.

US diplomats, top judges, senior military officers, the United Nations and former president George W Bush also appealed for Leal's execution to be halted on the grounds it could jeopardise American citizens arrested abroad as well as US diplomatic interests.

The White House asked the supreme court to put the execution on hold while Congress passed a law that would prevent Leal from being put to death along with dozens of other foreign nationals who were denied proper access to diplomatic representation before trials for capital crimes.

In a 30-page brief to the court, the administration said that carrying out the execution "would place the United States in irreparable breach of its international law obligation" under the convention.

"That breach would have serious repercussions for United States foreign relations, law-enforcement and other co-operation with Mexico, and the ability of American citizens travelling abroad to have the benefits of consular assistance in the event of detention," it said.

But Stephen Hoffman, an assistant attorney general for Texas, said in a brief to the supreme court: "Leal's argument is nothing but a transparent attempt to evade his impending punishment."

Sauceda's mother, Rachel Terry, told a San Antonio television station that Leal's life should not be spared.

"A technicality doesn't give anyone a right to come to this country and rape, torture and murder anyone," she said.

Critics of any delay to the execution also say that Leal, after living all his adult life in the US, is not the usual type of foreign national confronting an unfamiliar judicial system or language that the Vienna convention is designed to protect.

Leal's lawyer, Sandra Babcock, criticised the supreme court's refusal to block the execution.

"This case was not just about one Mexican national on death row in Texas. The execution of Mr Leal violates the United States' treaty commitments, threatens the nation's foreign policy interests, and undermines the safety of all Americans abroad. That is why the US solicitor general, former diplomats, military leaders, and Americans detained overseas were among those who joined together to call for a stay of execution," she said.

"It is now imperative that Congress promptly act to ensure passage of legislation that will bring the US into compliance with its international legal commitments and provide judicial review to the forty Mexican nationals who remain on death row in violation of their consular rights."

[Source: By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, Washington, 08Jul11]

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