The Humberto Leal Execution Intervention


The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Humberto Leal Garcia tonight.  He was convicted in 1994 of rape and murder, and spent the ensuing 16 years on Death Row.  The Obama Administration, including both the State Department and the President himself, have intervened to demand a reprieve.  So has the Mexican government, the United Nations, and various diplomatic figures, including former President George W. Bush.

There are two phrases you will never read in any mainstream media account of the Leal affair.  One of them is “Adria Sauceda.”  That’s the name of Leal’s victim.  She was found stripped naked on the side of a dirt road in San Antonio in 1994.  She had been raped, sexually violated with a stick, and her head bashed in with a forty-pound chunk of asphalt.  Most news reports prefer to identify her only as a “16-year-old girl who was raped and bludgeoned.” 

There has never really been much question of Leal’s guilt in the murder, although of course death penalty opponents, and the bizarre cluster of anarchic criminal fetishists that orbits them, occasionally like to muddy the issue.  There was blood from Sauceda on Leal’s underwear when he was arrested.  Witnesses on the night of the murder report Leal’s brother screaming that “Leal came home with blood on him, saying he had killed a girl.”  His car was marked with bloodstains that had been hastily wiped off.  There were bite marks on Sauceda’s cheek, neck, and chest, which matched a dental impression of Leal’s teeth. 

At various times during his legal adventures, Leal admitted that he might have killed the girl in a drunken fight, or claimed that she was accidentally killed when she fell and hit her head on the asphalt rock.  Inconveniently for this version of the story, the bloody rock was resting partially on top of Sauceda’s arm when her body was found, and the medical examiner said she was struck multiple times.  Sauceda also had injuries on her chest and shoulder from the stick that was used to violate her, and defense wounds on her hands, which is impossible to square with the “fell down during a drunken fight” excuse.

The other phrase you’ll never read in a mainstream press account of the Leal execution is “illegal alien.”  Leal is invariably referred to as a “Mexican national” or “Mexican citizen” in news reports.  In fact, he was brought into the United States when he was 2 years old, and remained in the country illegally for the next twenty years, until the night of Adria Sauceda’s murder.

Because Leal is a “Mexican national,” the Mexican government is vigorously attempting to halt his execution, as they are doing for roughly fifty other “Mexican nationals” on Death Row in the United States.  In Leal’s case, the instrument of his deliverance is meant to be the Vienna Convention, which requires that a foreign citizen be told he has the right to contact his nation’s consulate after being arrested. 

Supposedly this lack of consular access denied Leal the stellar services of Mexican lawyers, who could have helped him beat a conviction airtight enough to survive later challenges in the 5th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.  Mexico doesn’t have the death penalty, and will not extradite criminals to the United States unless they receive assurances that the death penalty will not be pursued by prosecutors.

I have a question: hasn’t the Obama Administration stated that it’s unthinkable to ask a captured criminal about his immigration status?  In that case, how are we supposed to apply the Vienna Convention?  Slip every non-Caucuasian detainee a card with the phone numbers of every embassy from every nation in the continent he might conceivably have originated from?

Leal’s defenders say that his execution would violate international treaty agreements, and become an outrage against international law.  “This is about the right that each person has under the Vienna Convention to be able to enjoy the support of their country of origin when they face criminal proceedings in a foreign country,” according to the Mexican Foreign Ministry, as quoted by the BBC.

“The imminent execution of [Humberto Leal] would place the United States in irreparable breach of its international law obligation,” said U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, adding that there would be “serious repercussions for United States foreign relations, law enforcement and other co-operation with Mexico, and the ability of American citizens travelling abroad to have the benefits of consular assistance in the event of detention.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote a letter to Texas governor Rick Perry, demanding that Leal’s sentence be commuted to life in prison.  “The lack of consular assistance raises concerns about whether or not Mr. Leal Garcia’s right to a fair trial was fully upheld,” said a spokesman for the commissioner.

CNN quotes U.N. Special Repporteur Christof Heyns expanding on this point: “If the scheduled execution of Mr. Leal Garcia goes ahead, the United States government will have implemented a death penalty after a trial that did not comply with due process rights.  This will be tantamount to an arbitrary deprivation of life.”

This would be same United Nations that puts North Korea in charge of arms-control conferences, Libya on the Human Rights Commission, and cannot bring itself to denounce Bashar Assad as a criminal despite the wanton murder of over 1,400 Syrians, including women and children.  Tell you what, fellows: get back to us when you’re not a sickening global joke on the subject of human rights.  The world is more threatened by murderous dictators than the execution of a brutal rapist who illegally invaded the country where he committed his crime.

George Bush took this “international law” stuff seriously enough to halt every capital case against a “Mexican National” when the International Court of Justice at the Hague decided their convictions were invalid, due to the lack of consular advice, in 2004.  The Supreme Court later overturned his order, but Leal would only be the second of the alien Death Row inmates to be executed since then.

Governor Perry, on the other hand, does not seem much impressed by these international edicts.  He has thus far refused to stay Leal’s execution.  Spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said bluntly, “If you commit the most heinous of crimes in Texas, you can expect to face the ultimate penalty under our laws, as in this case.”

If the people of Texas disagree with the Governor’s administration of justice, they can always vote him out of office.  Where would they go to vote against the International Court of Justice?

Update: The U.S. Supreme Court denied Leal’s petition for a stay of execution, in a 5-4 decision that split along conservative vs. liberal lines.  Justices Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg dissented.  

“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,” the unsigned majority opinion read.

Humberto Leal Garcia was executed by lethal injection on schedule, and was pronounced dead at 7:21 PM EST. 

According to CNN, his final statement was, “I am sorry for everything I have done.  I have hurt a lot of people.  Let this be final and be done.  I take the full blame for this.”  

He then shouted “Viva Mexico!” and said, “I’m ready, warden, let’s get this show on the road.”