Court Orders U.S. to Halt Execution of 5 Mexicans

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 17, 2008

CULIACAN, Mexico, July 16 -- A U.N. court ruled Wednesday that the United States should halt the executions of five Mexican nationals -- including a convicted killer sentenced to die in three weeks -- until their cases can be reviewed.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, is not binding. Nonetheless, Mexican officials and attorneys for the condemned men said they hoped it would influence U.S. authorities overseeing the five cases in Texas, as well as the 46 other cases of Mexican nationals on death row across the United States.

The most pressing case involves José Medellín, who was convicted of raping and killing two teenage girls 15 years ago as part of a gang initiation rite. He is scheduled to die Aug. 5 in Texas. His case has stirred a passionate reaction in Mexico, which does not have the death penalty.

On Wednesday, Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa said she hoped U.S. authorities would abide by the World Court's decision and stay the executions.

The World Court ruled in 2004 that the Mexican nationals deserved to have their cases reviewed because of claims they did not to have an opportunity to seek legal help from Mexican consulates, a right granted under the 1963 Vienna Conventions. After the court's ruling, President Bush asked courts in Texas to comply. But they refused, setting off another round of legal fights. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court backed the Texas courts, saying that they were not bound by international rulings and that Bush could not force them to review the cases.

Attorneys for the Mexican government have argued that the United States is not living up to its international obligations. U.S. attorneys have countered that the Bush administration has gone to great lengths to comply with the World Court's ruling.

Since losing before the U.S. Supreme Court, Medellín's attorneys have been desperately lobbying Congress to pass a law requiring the federal courts to hold hearings for all of the Mexican nationals on death row. A bill was introduced Monday, but it is unclear whether it will work its way through the legislative process in time to save Medellín.

"Texas should stay the execution of Medellín, not only out of respect for the International Court of Justice, but also out of respect for the U.S. Congress," Gregory J. Kuykendall, an Arizona lawyer who has worked on Medellín's case, said in an interview Wednesday. "The U.S. would expect no less of Mexico or any other signatory of the Vienna Conventions."

Attention will now shift to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which Kuykendall said is responsible for advising Gov. Rick Perry (R) in death penalty cases.

"There are very solid reasons to grant Medellín a reprieve," Kuykendall said.

The U.S. government's lawyer in the World Court has said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey have jointly written to Perry, urging him to review Medellín's case, according to the Associated Press.

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