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Showdown over a Texas execution

The state plans to execute a Mexican national on Aug. 5, despite objections of the World Court.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 31, 2008

On death row: Jose Medellin's execution is set for next week.

Texas department of criminal Justice/ap


The United States is fast approaching a showdown over its commitment to the rule of international law as Texas prepares to carry out the scheduled Aug. 5 execution of convicted killer and rapist Jose Medellin.

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On July 14, the International Court of Justice at The Hague ordered the US government to "take all measures necessary" to prevent the execution of Mr. Medellin and four other Mexican nationals awaiting execution dates on death row in Texas.

But Medellin is in the custody of Texas authorities, not the federal government, and the Texas governor says he intends to push forward with the execution next Tuesday.

Congress could take quick action to defuse the international imbroglio, but legal analysts say intervening in the Medellin case would be politically risky for national lawmakers in an election year.

The case highlights a heated debate over the relevance of international legal rulings in the American justice system. It is a flash point in an ongoing rivalry pitting American law against international law, and the controversy is playing out in an emotional case involving race, rape, murder, and capital punishment Texas-style.

"We don't really care where you are from; if you commit a heinous and despicable crime you are going to face the ultimate penalty under our laws," says Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). "No foreign national is going to receive any additional protection than a Texas citizen would."

US dispute with Mexico

The Medellin case is at the center of a long-running dispute between Mexico and the United States over the failure of US officials in the past to notify the Mexican consulate when Mexican citizens are arrested in the US. Such notification is required under an international treaty, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

The US government acknowledged the treaty violations and apologized.

But Mexico wanted more. It took its case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court. In 2004, the court sided with Mexico and ordered the US to conduct special hearings in the Medellin case and 50 other cases involving Mexicans sentenced to death in various states.

The World Court ordered the American courts to determine whether the lack of consular notification prejudiced the outcome of any trial. If so, the conviction and death sentence should be overturned, the court said.

Following the ruling, the governor of Oklahoma commuted the death sentence of Mexican national Osvaldo Torres. Mr. Torres is now serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

But in neighboring Texas, officials have taken a different stance. The Texas courts ruled in the Medellin case that he is not entitled to a new round of appeals despite the World Court decision.