The Supreme Court agreed today to consider the appeal of a Honduran man convicted of bludgeoning a Virginia teenager to death with a baseball bat, diving back into the issue of foreigners facing criminal charges in the United States.
Lawyers for Mario A. Bustillo are seeking a new trial for their client, arguing he was never told of his right to seek legal help from the Honduran consulate, which they argue was critical in his case. Under the Vienna Convention, foreigners arrested in the United States must be informed of their right to seek help from their home country.
The nation's highest court also agreed to consider the appeal of Mexican national Moises Sanchez-Llamas, who was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for wounding a Medford, Ore., police officer in 1999. Sanchez-Llama also was not told of his right to contact the Mexican consulate, and lawyers are arguing his pretrial statements to police should be disallowed because of that.
Bustillo was convicted of first-degree murder in the Dec. 10, 1997, slaying of James R. Merry, 18, of Springfield. Prosecutors said Merry was standing outside a Popeye's restaurant in Springfield when Bustillo mistook him for a member of a rival gang and smashed him in the head with a baseball bat. Bustillo is serving a 30-year sentence.
Bustillo's attorneys say that witnesses to the slaying mistook their client for another Honduran man who committed the crime. They say the Honduran government is willing to help find the man, who fled back to Honduras after the killing.
Three eyewitnesses named Bustillo as the attacker during the 1998 trial. But Bustillo said he has compelling evidence -- including a videotaped confession from fellow Honduran national Julio Cesar Osorto-- that shows he did not beat Merry.
"It's hard to imagine a case where the denial of consular assistance could be more prejudicial," Jeffrey Lamken, one of Bustillo's lawyers, wrote to the country's highest court.
Earlier in the year, the Supreme Court was considering another case involving Jose Ernesto Medillin, a Mexican national on death row in Texas. But the case was dismissed without a ruling after President Bush ordered state courts to hold new hearings for Medillin and 50 other inmates following a ruling by the International Court of Justice.