Tennessee execution: Billy Ray Irick tortured to death, expert says in new filing

Editor's note: Reporter Dave Boucher was one of seven state-required media witnesses at Irick's execution. 
Billy Ray Irick felt searing pain akin to torture before he died in a Tennessee prison in August, but steps taken in carrying out his execution blocked signs of suffering, according to a doctor who reviewed information about the lethal injection.
In new court filings entered late Thursday amidst an ongoing legal challenge of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol, Dr. David Lubarsky said statements from people who witnessed the execution indicated the controversial drug midazolam failed to ensure Irick could not feel pain during his death.
As a result, the death row inmate “experienced the feeling of choking, drowning in his own fluids, suffocating, being buried alive, and the burning sensation caused by the injection of the potassium chloride,” Lubarsky wrote in the filing.
The document also says the state did not follow its own lethal injection protocol, raising questio…

Texas: Efforts fail to halt execution of Mexican national

Rubén Cárdenas
Government calls Texas execution an 'illegal act'

Mexico had vowed to exhaust all efforts to prevent the execution tomorrow of a Mexican inmate on death row in a Texas prison but now it appears those efforts were unsuccessful.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles today voted unanimously against a recommendation to the governor to halt the execution of Mexican national Rubén Cárdenas.

In 2 votes that went 6-0, the board voted against recommending that Governor Greg Abbott postpone the inmate’s death by lethal injection and that his sentence not be commuted.

Yesterday, Foreign Affairs official Carlos Sada told a press conference yesterday in Mexico City that Texas prosecutors did not follow due process in the case of the 47-year-old Cárdenas, who was sentenced to death for raping and killing his 15-year-old cousin in 1997.

“From the start, there has been a failure, and from our perspective, this is an illegal act,” Sada said of the execution.

The foreign affairs undersecretary for North America said Cárdenas was not given the opportunity to speak with Mexican consular officials, a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

The inmate is one of 51 Mexican prisoners on death row in the U.S. who were the subject of a 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice that the U.S. had violated international law for not informing them of their right to consular assistance.

The court ordered a review of those cases.

Sada also said Mexico would seek to overturn how Cárdenas’ confession was obtained, and look to exonerate him with up-to-date DNA testing, Reuters reported yesterday.

His lawyer has alleged that Cárdenas didn’t commit the crime. The Laredo Morning Times reported last week that the case has been plagued by claims of unreliable forensic evidence, conflicting statements and witnesses, concerns about ineffective lawyers, and allegations of a coerced confession.

But Texas prosecutor Ted Hake said the international court’s ruling is “not enforceable” and there is no mechanism in Texas to hold the review it ordered.

Besides which, he said, “This guy is guilty as sin.”

It is not the first time Mexico and the U.S. have clashed over the execution of Mexican nationals on U.S. soil because there is no death penalty in Mexico.

The case is yet another irritant for troubled Mexico-U.S. relations, already hurt by President Donald Trump’s plans for a border wall and his threats to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“It is as if the United States were thumbing its nose at the government of Mexico and the United Nations,” said Sandra Babcock, a Cornell Law School professor specializing in international issues surrounding capital punishment. “And when I say the U.S., I should be clear that we’re talking about Texas.”

Unless the Texas governor chooses to grant a 30-day postponement, Cárdenas will die tomorrow at 6:00pm.

Source: Mexico News Daily, November 7, 2017

Mexican citizen facing execution in Texas for killing cousin

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, where executions are carried out in Texas.HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Attorneys for a Mexican citizen on death row in Texas for the abduction and slaying of his 16-year-old cousin more than two decades ago looked to the federal courts in a last-day attempt to halt his execution.

Ruben Ramirez Cardenas was scheduled for lethal injection Wednesday evening for the February 1997 killing of Mayra Laguna in the Rio Grande Valley in far South Texas.

The high school student was snatched from a bedroom she shared with a younger sister at her family’s public housing apartment in McAllen and her body was found later in a canal near a lake. In a confession to police, Cardenas said he and a friend drove around with Laguna in his mother’s car, that he had sex with the girl and then fatally beat her as she fought him after he unbound her arms to let her go.

Cardenas, 47, would be the seventh inmate executed this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state.

“I didn’t plan on doing this, but I was high on cocaine,” he told authorities.

He said after he hit her in the neck, she began coughing up blood and having breathing difficulties. After trying unsuccessfully to revive her, he said he tied her up “and rolled her down a canal bank.”

This week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, rejected an appeal from Cardenas’ lawyers that sought new DNA testing on evidence in the case. His attorneys argued the new testing would be better than the now-obsolete testing that left “persistent doubts about his guilt and the integrity of his conviction.”

“We will be filing multiple appeals in federal court,” Cardenas’ attorney, Maurie Levin, said Tuesday.

The state courts also rejected arguments that eyewitness testimony against Cardenas was shaky, that little physical evidence tied him to the teen’s killing and that his confession was obtained after hours of isolation and intense police questioning.

“All hallmarks of wrongful convictions,” Levin said. “To permit his execution to proceed when there is potentially exculpatory DNA testing available violates the most basic notions of fairness and justice.”

She also contended that authorities acted improperly when not telling the Mexican-born Cardenas that he could get legal help from the Mexican consulate.

Texas' death chamberHidalgo County prosecutors argued the DNA request was intended to delay the punishment and “muddy the waters.” Prosecutors also pointed out in court filings that Cardenas led them to the scene of the killing, providing information not publicly disclosed.

Rene Guerra, the former Hidalgo County district attorney who prosecuted Cardenas, said Tuesday that he “wouldn’t be able to live with myself” if he believed the conviction was improper.

“I never would have authorized a case that was not there or was a flimsy investigation,” he said. “This guy deserves the death penalty.”

Laguna’s younger sister, Roxanna Laguna, told authorities she awoke in pre-dawn darkness Feb. 22, 1997, to see an intruder in their bedroom. She said Mayra’s mouth was taped and her hands were bound, and that the man went out a window with her.

A woman in the same Hidalgo County public housing complex called police after seeing a man walking with a barefoot girl who was wearing only a shirt and underwear.

Cardenas initially was questioned about the teen’s disappearance because he was a close family member who had socialized with her.

Being born in Mexico, which does not have capital punishment, made Cardenas eligible for legal help from the Mexican consulate when he was arrested, according to provisions of the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations, which is a 1963 international agreement. The courts have allowed executions to move forward in several previous Texas death row cases in which the agreement was said to have been violated.

In a statement Monday, the Foreign Relations Department said Mexico “will maintain until the last minute its efforts to achieve a moratorium or suspension of this penalty” for Cardenas.

A friend in the car with Cardenas, Jose Antonio Lopez Castillo, now 45, was convicted of aggravated kidnapping and is serving a 25-year prison term.

Source: The Associated Press (The Washington Post), Michael Graczyk, November 8, 2017

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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