Texas governor defends Mexican's execution

Associated Press
This undated handout photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Humberto Leal. State lawyers have told the U.S. Supreme Court that appeals to halt this week's scheduled execution of the Mexican national for the 1994 rape-slaying of a 16-year-old San Antonio girl are without merit. Leal faces lethal injection Thursday in Huntsville,Texas. (AP Photo/Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
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This undated handout photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Humberto Leal. …

HOUSTON (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry rebuffed criticism Friday from the United Nations and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Texas' execution of a Mexican man whose lawyers said he was not informed he could have sought legal help from the Mexican government after he was arrested for the murder of a San Antonio teenager.

"If you commit the most heinous of crimes in Texas, you can expect to face the ultimate penalty under our laws," Perry's spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said a day after convicted killer Humberto Leal was put to death in Huntsville.

In Geneva, the U.N.'s top human rights official said Leal's execution amounted to a breach of international law by the U.S.

The Texas governor has the authority in execution cases to issue a one-time 30-day reprieve, an authority Perry and other governors in the nation's most active capital punishment state rarely have invoked.

"After reviewing the totality of the issues that led to Leal's conviction, as well as the numerous court rulings surrounding the case, including the most recent Supreme Court ruling on Thursday, Gov. Perry agreed that Leal was guilty of raping and bludgeoning a 16-year-old girl to death," Cesinger said.

Adria Sauceda was killed in 1994 in a gruesome attack in which her head was bashed with a 30- to 40-pound piece of asphalt and she was raped, strangled, bit and then left nude on a dirt road with a piece of wood stuck in her.

From the Texas death chamber Thursday evening, Leal, 38, took responsibility for the slaying, asked for forgiveness and wrapped up his comments by twice shouting: "Viva Mexico!"

He was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and moved with his family to the U.S. when he was about 1½ years old.

Mexico's government, President Barack Obama's administration and the State Department were among those asking the Supreme Court to stop the execution of the former mechanic to allow Congress time to consider legislation that would require court reviews for condemned foreign nationals who weren't offered the help of their consulates.

The high court rejected the request 5-4.

"The secretary herself is quite disappointed in the outcome in this case," Clinton's spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said Friday. "You know that the U.S. government sought a stay of Leal's execution in order to give the Congress time to act on the Consular Notification Compliance Act, which would have provided Leal the judicial review required by international law.

"Frankly if we don't protect the rights of non-Americans in the United States, we seriously risk reciprocal lack of access to our own citizens overseas," Nuland said. "So this is why the secretary is concerned. ... We've got to treat non-Americans properly here if we expect to be able to help our citizens overseas."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the punishment "raises particular legal concerns," including whether Leal had access to consular services and a fair trial.

Pillay also cited a 2004 International Court of Justice ruling saying the U.S. must review and reconsider the cases of 51 Mexican nationals sentenced to death, including Leal's. In 2005, President George W. Bush agreed with the ruling but the U.S. Supreme Court later overruled Bush.

"Texas is not bound by a foreign court's ruling," Cesinger said. "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the treaty was not binding on the states and that the president does not have the authority to order states to review cases of the then 51 foreign nationals on death row in the U.S."

In its ruling Thursday about an hour before Leal's execution, the Supreme Court's majority opinion pointed to the IJC decision, saying it's been seven years since then and three years since the previous Texas death penalty case that raised similar consular legal access issues.

If a statute implementing the provisions of the international court ruling "had genuinely been a priority for the political branches, it would have been enacted by now," the majority ruling said.

Had the White House and dissenting justices been worried about "the grave international consequences that will follow from Leal's execution ... Congress evidently did not find these consequences sufficiently grave to prompt its enactment of implementing legislation, and we will follow the law as written by Congress," the ruling continued.

Leal's appeals lawyers had pinned their hopes on legislation introduced in the Senate last month that applied to the Vienna Convention provisions and said Leal should have a reprieve so the measure could make its way through the legislative process.

Similar bills have failed twice in recent congressional sessions.

"Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be," the court said.

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