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…

Texas death-row inmate Humberto Leal gets more support

The list of those calling for Texas to stay the July execution of Humberto Leal Jr. grew on Friday when the Franciscan Order and organizations representing victims of sexual abuse by priests sent letters to the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole.

The letters from the abuse victims organizations, including the San Antonio chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and the Franciscans call for for a stay or commutation of Leal's sentence so the Catholic Church can investigate the allegations he made against Father Federico Fernandez.

The allegation by Leal, 38, that Fernandez sexually abused him when he was 10 or 11 and attending St. Clare's Catholic Church was made for the first time in a recent petition for a reprieve or commutation Leal's attorney sent to the board and Gov. Rick Perry.

Leal was sentenced to die for the rape and bludgeoning death of Adria Sauceda, 16, whose naked body was found on May 21, 1994 on a dirt road not far from a party that she and Leal both attended. The execution is scheduled for July 7.

Franciscan Provincial Minister William Spencer said in a letter that he needed to add his voice to those calling for a reprieve because, he said, the sex abuse claim could have merit. A spokesman for the San Antonio Archdiocese has said Leal's allegation would be investigated.

Fernandez, a San Antonio priest, was charged in 1988 with molesting two young boys but the charges were later dropped and a lawsuit was settled out of court.

Leal was one of 51 Mexican nationals on death row nationwide that an international court determined in 2004 had their rights violated by not being told they could talk to Mexican consular representatives at the time of arrest.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague said the remedy for that violation was to hold hearings to determine if consular access would have made a difference in trials of the condemned, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 rejected an order for those hearings by then-President George W. Bush, saying only Congress could require them.

Sandra Babcock, Leal's Chicago-based attorney with the Northwestern University School of Law, said such legislation is in the works and her client should get a reprieve so he can have his hearing if Congress approves it. Her petition was accompanied by letters calling for a stay by high ranking members of the U.S. government, military and judiciary.

Source: San Antonio Express-News, June 10, 2011

Texas governor urged to block Mexican immigrant execution

Advocates are pleading with Texas Governor Rick Perry to spare the life of a Mexican immigrant on death row because the man was not allowed to contact the Mexican consulate following his arrest.

Humberto Leal Garcia Jr., 38, was convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl and then bludgeoning her to death with a 35-pound piece of asphalt in 1994. He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on July 7.

A group of two dozen Americans, including former FBI Director William Sessions and former Texas Governor Mark White, wrote Perry on Wednesday saying that executing Leal would violate international law and place U.S. citizens in other countries, from soldiers to tourists, at risk.

"Consular assistance provides a unique and indispensable protection for foreign nationals who are unfamiliar with the U.S. criminal justice system," the letter says. "This is true with regard to our own citizens abroad as well."

Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, has also asked that the execution be halted.

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed told Reuters that "the governor would have to receive a favorable recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles to consider the clemency requested."

Leal was a 21-year old from Monterrey, Mexico, working as a mechanic in San Antonio when he abducted a teenager he met at a party, according to his Texas Department of Criminal Justice case file. Her nude body was found nearby, and evidence indicated she was raped, sodomized, and then brutally beaten to death. Scratches and cuts on Leal's face linked him to the murder.

That's when Texas authorities should have allowed him to consult with the Mexican consulate, says Sandra Babcock, a law professor at Northwestern University representing Leal.

"They would have provided him with highly qualified and experienced defense counsel," Babcock told Reuters.

"I think that consular assistance in this case literally would have made the difference between life and death."

Instead, Leal was represented by a court-appointed attorney Babcock says did not provide high-quality counsel. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1995.

"He had no prior experience in the criminal justice system, he had no record," Babcock said. "Just the kind of vulnerabilities where consular assistance can make a real difference."

Texas executes more criminals than any other state, and that has long caused friction with Mexico, which has no death penalty. In 2002, Texas executed Mexican citizen Javier Suarez Medina over the objections of then-President Vicente Fox.

In 2008, the case of Jose Medellin, a Mexican citizen convicted of a rape and murder in Texas, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of whether he was improperly denied consular assistance. He too was executed.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that in order for an international law such as the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to be binding on the states, Congress has to first pass laws implementing it. The U.S. government has signed the Vienna convention but Congress has not passed a law to implement it.

The Vienna Convention guarantees residents of foreign countries the right to visit with representatives of their governments when they are arrested.

Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and a former assistant U.S. attorney, signed the letter urging Perry to commute Leal's death sentence.

"If you ask most Texans about what are the most important principles you should teach your children, keeping your word is one of them," Osler told Reuters.

"You can debate whether we should have signed onto the Vienna Convention; maybe we should get out of it. But the fact is, we have signed it, and we need to keep our word to other nations."

But Mary Jane Peterson, whose son was murdered in San Antonio the same year as Leal's victim and who has been active in victims' rights causes, calls the debate over Leal's fate a "travesty."

"Unless there is some question about the evidence or some evidence of wrongdoing, I think the sentence should be carried out. I know that every time this whole thing comes up, it brings the horror back again for the victim's family."

Source: Reuters, June 10, 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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