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Illegal injections: How Texas is breaking the law, one execution at a time

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A, Created: 2011:04:11 10:43:02

Courtesy photo

Humberto Leal Jr. visiting with Sister Germaine Corbin last month at the TDCJ’s death-row unit in Huntsville, Texas.

Photo: Courtesy: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, License: N/A

Courtesy: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

In the early hours of May 21, 1994, 16-year-old Adria Sauceda and dozens of others attended a raucous Southside house party on Vincent Street, where witnesses reported seeing a dazed Sauceda — pumped full of alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana — pulled to the backyard. There she was stripped and circled by eight or nine men, each “taking turns” on the disoriented teenager. Friends who came to her aid were told to shut up, drink, and quit spoiling the party.

Later that morning, Humberto Leal, Jr. showed up, furious about what had happened to Sauceda, according to witnesses. He insisted on taking the girl home, saying she was a neighbor of his. Hours after Leal drove off with the victim in his father’s 1977 Mercedes, police found the girl’s naked and beaten body in a field just yards away from the house. She had been repeatedly raped, lastly with a crude wooden plank, and bludgeoned to death.

The account of that tragedy, pulled from hundreds of pages of trial transcripts and case files, is complex and, Leal’s defense now claims, filled with holes. Leal has always claimed he left the party with the victim that drunken night, and admitted to police he may have accidentally killed her during an alcohol-fueled fight on the side of the road. But for over a decade, Leal has denied he ever kidnapped or raped the victim.

But Leal’s imminent execution is now entangled in a controversy that has dogged the administrations of two U.S. presidents. Set to die by lethal injection this summer, the execution of the Mexican national flies in the face of international law, the wishes of the Mexican government, and even the U.S. Supreme Court. Leal, born in Monterrey, Mexico, is one of 50 Mexicans sitting on death row who have been charged, tried, and sentenced to die without gaining access to Mexican consular officials — a clear violation of a long-standing international treaty that protects thousands of Americans arrested abroad each year.

Leal’s lawyers claim the lack of access to the Mexican consulate sabotaged his case from the start, equipping him with a hopelessly inadequate defense team that failed to challenge the case against him. A review of the trial, they say, reveals a shoddy investigation that left more questions than answers in the wake of Sauceda’s brutal 1994 slaying.

While denied a retrial and, as of yet, the ability to re-test a crucial piece of evidence that secured his conviction, Leal’s lawyers say a judicial review, as requested by numerous U.S. and Mexican officials, would give the case a fair shake and flush out any uncertainty that still looms over the investigation into the teenager’s tragic murder.



International law & Texas

In 1988, after Javier Suarez Medina, a Mexican citizen, shot and killed an undercover Dallas police officer, authorities quickly charged, tried, and sentenced him to death before learning of his right, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs, to contact the Mexican consulate.

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