U.S. Enters Death Row Fray

An act of Congress may spare inmate's life

The U.S. government has entered the fight to obtain a stay of execution for Humberto Leal, a Mexican national who is on Texas' death row for the 1994 kidnapping, rape, and murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda in San Antonio. The U.S. Solicitor General has filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Leal's life should be spared until Congress has an opportunity to consider legislation that would protect foreign nationals and U.S. nationals traveling abroad. But unless the U.S. Supreme Court or Gov. Rick Perry intervenes, Leal will be executed tonight, Thursday, July 7.

Leal's case is fraught with problems. There was questionable representation by counsel at trial and questionable use of junk science as evidence against him, paired with lingering questions about whether he was ever involved in the teen's kidnapping or rape – plus the fact that as a Mexican national, Leal was denied access to consular authorities after his arrest. In fact, Leal didn't learn of his right to contact officials from his home country until after he was already on death row. That has been a common problem with foreign nationals in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S., even though the U.S. is a signatory to the 1963 Vienna Convention, which codifies consular rights. Mexico sued the U.S. in the International Court of Justice and won its bid to have U.S. courts review each of the more than 50 individual cases that it raised in court – including Leal's. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. Supreme Court said that absent an act of Congress, there was no way to give effect to the international court ruling. Last month, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy filed a bill that would ensure U.S. compliance with the Vienna Convention. Whether it will be too late to save Leal remains to be seen.

"Given these circumstances – petitioner's imminent execution date, the breach of United States' legal obligations that will ensue, the significant and detrimental foreign-policy consequences that will follow from such a breach, and the pendency of legislation that would avert those harms – the Court should stay petitioner's execution until the adjournment of the current session of Congress ... in order to allow the [U.S.] additional time to meet its international-law obligations," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote in the government's brief to the Supremes. "The exercise of this Court's discretion to grant such a stay is consistent with the equitable principles that have guided this Court's decisions with respect to stays of execution."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Humberto Leal, U.S. Supreme Court, Patrick Leahy, death penalty, Rick Perry, Adria Sauceda, cops, courts, Donald Verrilli

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