California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Bipartisan Agreement: Texas Execution Threatens Safety of Americans Abroad

The planned execution of a Mexican man next month in Texas is sparking bipartisan appeals to Governor Rick Perry. The 1994 prosecution of Humberto Leal Garcia violated international law, according to an array of retired military leaders, judges, and diplomats, who say Leal was deprived of assistance from his government until after his conviction.

His attorney, Sandra Babcock, is filing a reprieve petition today. She believes the issue is bigger than justice for one man. When the U.S. violates its treaties, she says, it encourages other countries to do the same, putting hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk of languishing helplessly in foreign jails.

"U.S. service members, missionaries, teachers, businessmen. Really there are so many different people - in addition to those of us who just like to vacation abroad - who really depend on this lifeline of consular assistance."

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that foreigners are, in fact, protected by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed by 173 countries, but that Congress needs to amend domestic law to match provisions of the treaty.

Such legislation is expected to be introduced soon. The question is, will Leal be put to death before statutes require review of his conviction?

Babcock, who is a professor of law at Northwestern University in Chicago, says if the execution proceeds as scheduled on July 7, it would send a message that the U.S. picks and chooses which international commitments to honor.

"And if we do that, then what incentive does any country have to enter into a treaty with us about nuclear arms, business negotiations, cooperation in the fight against global terror?"

Consular assistance, Babcock says, is crucial for understanding one's rights under the laws of foreign countries. Leal, who has learning disabilities, was arrested when he was 21 for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old in San Antonio. He maintains his innocence.

Babcock says he was convicted using "junk science" and had shoddy representation.

"He had no prior experience in the criminal justice system. He had no record. Just the kind of person who has the vulnerabilities that consular assistance can make a real difference. And in this case, I think, it would have made a difference between life and death."

Among those imploring Governor Perry and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop Leal's execution are Americans who know first-hand what it's like to be arrested in a foreign country: the journalist Euna Lee, imprisoned in North Korea until former President Clinton helped negotiate her release; and Billy Hayes, whose story of his 1970s arrest in Turkey became the movie, "Midnight Express."

For documentation of the Leal reprieve petition, as well as letters mentioned, go to www.humbertoleal.org. The site is to go live as of Tuesday, June 7.

Source: Public News Service, June 7, 2011

Stop the Execution of Humberto Leal

Humberto Leal Garcia will be executed by the state of Texas on July 7 -- even though he wasn't given the adequate legal counsel that could have spared his life.

As a Mexican national, Mr. Leal was legally entitled to assistance from the Mexican consulate. He was never made aware of this; instead, his court-appointed lawyers were inexperienced and failed to adequately challenge gaping holes in the prosecutions' case.

In the absence of consular assistance, Mr. Leal's trial lawyers failed. With consular assistance, Mr. Leal would never have been convicted, let alone sentenced to death.

Urge the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to stop the execution of Humberto Leal.
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