Mexican Executed After Appeal Denied in Texas

Bill Mears, CNN, August 6, 2008

Mexican national Jose Ernesto Medellin, whose death penalty conviction in the rape and murder of two teen girls sparked international controversy, was put to death in Texas on Tuesday night, prison officials said.

Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said Medellin died at 9:57 CT.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the last-ditch appeal of a Mexican national on Texas’ death row late Tuesday, paving the way for him to be executed for a pair of brutal slayings, state corrections officials said.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said about 9:15 p.m. that the court had turned down the appeal of Jose Ernesto Medellin.

Medellin’s capital appeal was an unusual one that pitted President Bush against his home state in a dispute over federal authority, local sovereignty and foreign treaties.

At issue is an international court’s ruling that Medellin and about 50 other Mexicans have been illegally denied access to their home country’s consul. Allowing travelers such access when they are arrested abroad is common practice.

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The case centers on whether the state has to give in to a demand by the president that the prisoner be allowed new hearings and sentencing. Bush made that demand reluctantly after an international court concluded Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on American death rows were improperly denied access to their consulate upon arrest, a violation of a treaty signed by the United States decades ago.

Medellin’s execution will be the first of what promises to be a busy month at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville. Five other men are scheduled to die by lethal injection in the next four weeks, including one on Thursday.

Medellin was 18 when he participated in the June 1993 gang rape and murder of two Harris County girls, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16. He was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to death.

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The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the United States had violated the rights of the prisoners, in part because officials and prosecutors failed to notify their home country, from which the men could have received legal and other assistance. Those judges ordered the United States to provide “review and reconsideration” of the convictions and sentences of the Mexican prisoners.

The world court again last month ordered the United States to do everything within its authority to stop Medellin’s execution until his case could be further reviewed.

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Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a 6-3 majority that the international court’s judgments cannot be forced upon individual states. The president also cannot “establish binding rules of decision that pre-empt contrary state law,” he said, and the treaty itself does not specifically require states to remedy any treaty violations.

The chief justice added that the international court “is not domestic law,” thereby restricting the president’s power over states. “The executive’s narrow and strictly limited authority to settle international claims disputes pursuant to an executive agreement cannot stretch so far as to support the current presidential memorandum” that would force Texas to conduct a new state trial, he wrote.

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