Mexican's execution in Texas reignites dispute over global treaty

Edgar Tamayo was convicted of killing a Houston cop in 1994. He sought a reprieve from execution by arguing that he didn't get rapid access to consular officials as stipulated by international law.

Pat Sullivan/AP
The family of slain Houston police officer Guy Gaddis leave the prison after witnessing the execution of Mexican national Edgar Tamayo Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Huntsville, Texas. Tamayo was convicted of killing Gaddis 20 years ago.

A Mexican national was executed in Texas Wednesday, defying the Mexican government and the US State Department and pulling Texas once again into a dispute over the rights of foreigners held on death row.

Edgar Tamayo was convicted of killing a Houston police officer in 1994, and sought a reprieve from execution for 19 years, arguing that Texas police didn’t follow the Vienna Convention that requires them to give foreigners rapid access to consular officials from their home countries when arrested.

His position won the support of his home government and the Obama administration, which worries that American citizens also might be denied consular access.

“Our consular visits help ensure U.S. citizens detained overseas have access to food and appropriate medical care, if needed, as well as access to legal representation,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a letter to Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry urging that the execution be delayed.

Perry rejected any postponement.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from – if you commit a despicable crime like this in Texas, you are subject to our state laws, including a fair trial by jury and the ultimate penalty,” Perry’s spokeswoman, Lucy Nashed, said in an email.

Mr. Tamayo’s execution is the latest battle in a long-running dispute over whether Texas and other states must recognize international treaties that give legal rights to foreigners held for crimes on US soil. His case was among those of 51 Mexicans that the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, ordered the United States to review in 2004 because the defendants hadn’t been given timely access to consular officials. In Tamayo’s case, he wasn’t allowed to see a representative of his country until a week before his trial.

The US Supreme Court ruled four years later that the White House doesn’t have the authority to order states to skirt procedure and comply with the international court ruling. It said an act of Congress would be needed to make the ruling binding on states.

Legislation is pending in Congress that would require the states to respect the Vienna Convention clause on foreign criminal suspects, says Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that’s critical of the death penalty.

Mr. Dieter says an unusual array of agencies and sectors were pushing for the legislation, including the Pentagon, which is concerned about US soldiers at foreign bases who may get arrested, and evangelical missionary groups, which send people to work overseas.

“People don’t often connect the dots between a person on death row and their son getting arrested for drugs in Russia,” he says.

Death penalty advocates say Tamayo exhausted legal remedies in Texas and shouldn’t have been granted new standing under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which the US government ratified in 1969.

“This is a guy who pumped three slugs into the head of a police officer in Texas. He got as much due process as he’d get anywhere in the world,” says Michael D. Rushford, the president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group in Sacramento, Calif., for crime victims and law enforcement.

According to prosecutors, Houston police Officer Guy Gaddis had handcuffed Tamayo, who was in Texas without legal papers, during an arrest. Tamayo removed a concealed weapon and shot Mr. Gaddis in the back of the head.

Tamayo, who’s from Morelos state near Mexico’s capital, wrote to a supporter last week acknowledging that his time had run out.

“The message that I want to give you is that, if they execute me, please ask my countrymen, and all of Mexico, to forgive me for letting them down and returning in a casket,” Tamayo said in the letter.

The recipient of the letter, Pablo Antonio Castro, who says he was the president of the Confederation of Associations and Clubs of Morelos in the United States and Canada, says in a telephone interview from Las Vegas that he hoped for a reprieve “in the last seconds because of all the international pressure.”

Sixty-one Mexican citizens await execution in the United States, according to Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights.

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