Humberto Leal Jr. is slated to be executed by the state of Texas on July 7th. His death will represent a grave miscarriage of justice as he received his sentence in clear violation of international law, which mandates that foreign nationals, like Mr. Leal, must be advised of their right to consular assistance after they have been arrested and charged.
The absence of such consultation has had particularly devastating consequences for Mr. Leal, as he received grossly inadequate representation and could be executed for a crime that he may not have committed.
Mr. Leal was convicted of a truly grisly crime, the 1994 rape and murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda. Ms. Sauceda was gang-raped by eight or nine men at a house party. A few hours later, Ms. Sauceda’s naked and battered body was found by police. According to the state of Texas, Mr. Leal was responsible for these horrific acts. Mr. Leal has consistently and vigorously contested this version of events.
It was no easy task to sort through the various accounts of the evening and this difficulty was greatly compounded by the fact that Mr. Leal’s court-appointed attorneys were severely unprepared to investigate and argue his case, failing to point out the many inconsistencies and uses of faulty forensic science that the prosecution relied on to secure their conviction.
While the problem of inadequate representation at trial is pervasive in death penalty cases, the concern is especially relevant here because it is the direct result of Texas’ violation of the Vienna Convention, an international treaty which the U.S. has signed. Mr. Leal was never given an opportunity to speak with the Mexican Consulate after his arrest, denying him the chance to secure lawyers who would have effectively advocated on his behalf and likely prevented him from being convicted at all.
In fact, Mr. Leal did not even receive information on how to contact the Consulate until after his incarceration, when he was given their phone number by a fellow prisoner. Mr. Leal had no prior criminal record, was the victim of childhood sexual abuse and suffered from disabilities as a result of brain damage. In short, he has lived a difficult life, and, as Northwestern Law Professor Sandra Babcock puts it, is “precisely the sort of person Article 36 of the Vienna Convention was meant to protect.”
Sadly, Mr. Leal is not the only foreign national who has been sentenced to die in contravention of the Vienna Convention. In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Texas had similarly violated the rights of more than 50 Mexican nationals, and ordered review of their cases. Then-President Bush sided with the ICJ and wrote a presidential memorandum which urged Texas to comply with the ruling. Unfortunately, the Texas Court of Appeals failed to follow these directions, arguing that state courts should not have to abide by the international court’s ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court ended up siding with Texas in its 2008 decision in Medellin v. Texas, holding that absent a congressional mandate, the presidential and international directives held no legal force. Since that time, Texas has executed four foreign nationals, and 23 others remain on death row.
These cases represent a serious human rights issue that demands immediate action. Mr. Leal’s case, in addition to being a tragic reminder of how disparate access to adequate legal representation undermines the legitimacy of capital punishment, also raises serious questions about the United State’s commitment to international law.
Given that the United States signed the Vienna Convention precisely to ensure that Americans abroad would receive fair treatment in foreign courts, killing Mr. Leal would be an act of brazen hypocrisy which is not likely to go unnoticed and could jeopardize the safety of American citizens living in foreign countries. Why should other nations play by the rules when it is clear that the U.S. is not going to? When signatories to international treaties are allowed to flagrantly violate them whenever it suits them, it undermines the legitimacy of international law and puts all of us at risk.
Please take a moment to urge the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to stop the execution of Humberto Leal. His life, and our safety abroad, depends on it.
Photo credit: Death Penalty Focus
By Stefanie Faucher, Associate Director of Death Penalty Focus