The state of Texas on Tuesday evening executed convicted murderer Humberto Leal, a Mexican who was brought to the US as a toddler, despite pleas from the White House, Mexico, and the United Nations to forestall the ultimate sanction.
A short time earlier, the US Supreme Court refused to order a stay of execution with a 5-to-4 vote.
The case has drawn international attention because of Mr. Leal's Mexican nationality. The White House requested a stay in part because it worried that, because of the execution, Americans could expect harsher treatment if they run afoul of the law abroad. "This case implicates United States foreign policy interests of the highest order," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said.
Leal was convicted in 1994 for the brutal rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, but his lawyers contend that he was never informed he could get consular help after his arrest, as the Vienna Convention demands. The US is a signatory to the treaty, but the US Supreme Court found in 2008 that only Congress could mandate that states are bound to the treaty. Though bills to that effect have been introduced each year since that ruling, Congress has not approved such a law.
"If you commit the most heinous of crimes in Texas, you can expect to face the ultimate penalty under our laws," Katherine Cesinger, spokeswoman for the Gov. Rick Perry, told CNN. "Congress has had the opportunity to consider and pass legislation for the federal courts' review of such cases since 2008, and has not done so each time a bill was filed."
The Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision to allow the execution to go ahead fell along ideological lines. "We decline to follow the United States' suggestion of granting a stay to allow Leal to bring a claim based on hypothetical legislation when it cannot even bring itself to say that his attempt to overturn his conviction has any prospect of success," wrote the majority.
The White House's pleas were also rejected by Governor Perry shortly before Leal's execution, becoming another point of contention between the White House and the massive, law-and-order Western state on the Mexico border.
This spring, Perry accused the White House of footdragging on a state request for federal emergency declarations after a series of massive wildfires swept the state. Last week, FEMA designated several hard-hit counties in Texas as national disaster areas, releasing federal funds to help the recovery.
Perry's decision to forgo a stay also put the potential presidential candidate at odds with one of his predecessors as governor, George W. Bush, who as president in 2008 reluctantly agreed with an international court's ruling that convicted murderer Jose Medellin was improperly denied access to the Mexican consulate before his indictment. Mr. Medellin was executed a few months after the Supreme Court ruled that states are not bound by the treaty.
Two hours before his execution, Leal received his last meal. It consisted of tacos, pico de gallo, fried chicken, fried okra, and two Cokes.