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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

When the Mexican government learned of the case against Medina, it launched a campaign urging the U.S. to retry him, sparking a cause célèbre in Mexico as waves of politicians vowed to force the Lone Star State into compliance with international law.

Governor Rick Perry rebuffed the Mexican government and executed Medina in 2002, prompting Mexico to take the U.S. before the International Court of Justice in The Hague for violating the long-standing international treaty. In response, the international court ordered the U.S. to review some 50 capital murder cases like Medina’s, including Leal’s. Still stinging from the execution, then-President Vicente Fox, a close U.S. ally, canceled a trip to meet with President George W. Bush at his Crawford ranch, saying, “It would be inappropriate to carry out this trip to Texas given these lamentable circumstances.”

John Bellinger, lead attorney with the U.S. State Department under President Bush’s second term, saw firsthand the administration grappling with how to approach the death-row cases after the ICJ’s ruling. “We had very lengthy discussions inside the federal government. These were very unpleasant cases, and nobody wanted to appear to be siding with some convicted Mexican rapists and murderers,” he recalled.

To the shock of many, Bush, a pro-death penalty president from a pro-death penalty state, chose to enforce the international court’s ruling. “This really surprised both liberals and conservatives because no one expected that President Bush was going to order compliance with an international tribunal in The Hague. … If you remember, no one at that time thought that he was really all that committed to international law,” Bellinger said.

Bush, he said, was persuaded by the State Department’s argument that reviewing the cases was “not a favor for the Mexicans” but rather ensured the protection of Americans traveling abroad. “If we don’t comply with our obligations … how can we expect other countries will comply with theirs?”

Texas pushed back against its former governor, and fought the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that while it is crucial for Texas to review the death-row cases, only Congress has the authority to force the state do so. In a concurring opinion, now-retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens still explicitly told Texas to settle the issue. Having already “ensnared the United States in the current controversy,” Stevens wrote it was up to Texas to prevent the breach of international law.

After the administration lost the Supreme Court case, Mexico took the U.S. back to the international court, and the ICJ ordered the U.S. to stay the execution of Jose Medellin, another Mexican citizen who never saw help from his consulate after he was convicted of the heinous 1993 strangulation and rape of two Houston-area teenage girls.

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