Obama Asks Texas to Spare Mexican Man the Death Penalty


In a controversial move, President Barack Obama intervened in a capital punishment case in Texas, attempting to block the execution of a Mexican man convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio in 1994.  Lawyers for the man to be executed, Humberto Leal, claim that had he been given the consular assistance required by the Vienna Convention, he probably would have been convicted of manslaughter.

According to Obama, executing Leal would breach international law and cause “irreparable harm” to U.S. interests abroad.  The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, could grant Leal clemency.  But, despite the fact that Congress is about to pass a law that would allow federal courts to review cases like these to determine whether lack of consular help made a significant impact in the case, Perry won’t budge.  Leal is set to be executed on July 7.

The issue is not whether Leal raped and killed the woman, which even his lawyers admit is “plausible.”  But he was denied the proper legal assistance throughout the case.  Under this argument, Leal was denied a fair trial. According to the Guardian,

“Mexican authorities were never informed of his arrest, and at his trial he was assigned court-appointed lawyers whom his current attorneys say were unprepared and incompetent. One of the trial lawyers has twice been suspended from practising law and reprimanded two other times for failing to carry out his obligations to his clients, according to the attorneys.”

It also seems that Texas authorities neglected to tell Leal that he had any rights to consular assistance under the Vienna Convention, so he didn’t know that he could ask for further assistance.

The United Nations, Amnesty International, and a number of diplomats and military officials have signed letters to Perry, saying that a refusal to grant clemency to Leal could endanger the lives and interests of Americans abroad, especially military personnel.  A UN official said that executing Leal would amount to “an arbitrary deprivation of life.”

Although Rick Perry’s consistent backing of the death penalty may make him a more popular political figure, given that a majority of Americans support capital punishment, this is a clear case where clemency should be applied.  Even former president George W. Bush said that he would adhere to a 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice, which said that the U.S. had failed to legally support 51 Mexicans who were awaiting execution.  They also had not been told that they could ask their consulates for assistance.  The problem is, though, that until this law passes Congress, individual states are not required to adhere to the ICJ’s ruling.

You know it’s bad when a governor is still refusing to commute a death sentence, despite pleas from diplomats, military figures, and legal and political authorities.  It’s unclear why Perry is still determined to execute Leal for what his office described as “the most heinous of crimes,” but if the execution does go through, Perry could create an international incident.  If he’s still considering a run for the presidency – or even just his obligations as governor of a U.S. state – Perry should think again.

Photo from Gage Skidmore’s Flickr photostream.


William C
William C4 months ago

Thanks for the information.

W. C
W. C4 months ago

Thank you for caring.

Peggy J.
Peggy Jakopak6 years ago

Vince D I am so with you on this. Once again Obama sticks his nose in where it shouldn't be and, of all things, to try and stop the execution of a man who even his own lawyers admit is guilty (though they try and skirt around it and say "probable"). I don't care what Mexico thinks of this. If they kept their trash in their own country, a 16-year-old girl would still be alive and with her family.

Andrew B.
Andrew B.6 years ago

Part of the whole problem is exemplified by the statement made by eva s. where she refers to humans as animals.
There is no such thing as an indefensible human being and having an us and them mentality doesn't absolve you from responsibility to stand up against what is wrong.
Murder is wrong! and it is just as much murder to support state murder of prisoners as it is for a psychopath to kill a child.
Get it?

Joy Jin
Joy Jin6 years ago

The death penalty is unjust and hypocritical and I hope that eventually it will be banned in all states.

Laure H.
Laure H6 years ago

Texas also has the problem of violent offenders getting out, only to rape and murder again.

I was just reading Freakonomics. In the section about crime, they suggested used statistics to figure out why capital punishment doesn't seem to deter crime here in the U.S. It obviously works in other places to lower crime, whatever other negative effects it has.

They suggested capital punishment, as it is practiced here, does not really deter criminals. Why? because the criminals understand that they are more likely to be dead on the street by their early thirties than if they were on death row, with its lengthy appeals process which increases the likelihood of just dying of natural causes, or of being released on appeal. I'd add that the death row inmates don't typically mingle with the others, making their quarters safer from other inmates, as well.

Interesting perspective.

eva s.
eva s.6 years ago

The issue isn't about helping the person that's already dead. It's about keeping other people form doing the same, and to keep animals like this re-offending. The prisons are already overcrowded and felons are being released. Look at California. This lyear alone several murderers were release as well as a number of those with a high risk of violence as unsupervised parolees. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/26/local/la-me-prisons-20110526

Hope this warms the cockles of anyone's heart wanting these guys put only in prison and not executed.

Jana Zajicova
Jana Zajicova6 years ago

...the victims are dead already, you cannot help them anyway. With the death penalty you only spread the violence further and cause even more pain. Even I think, about 20 years spent in the worst possible conditions before being executed, is not the relevant "punishment" fot whatever murder...

Laure H.
Laure H6 years ago

Actually, the crime rate is pretty low in most Islamic countries who take "an eye for an eye" pretty seriously. Trouble is, you end up with a police and court system that thinks it is invincible, and end up with the "absolute power corrupts absolutely" problem.

On the other hand, the crime rate in Gibraltar is extremely low - in a small community with fairly protected borders, it is hard to commit a crime and not be noticed or caught.

Evil is everywhere. Removing the death penalty will actually encourage some criminals. Talk to some career criminals some time, and see how casually they talk about the pros and cons of different crimes, weighing the benefits vs the consequences if caught as part of their decision-making process: they choose the crimes with the highest rate of return for the lowest penalty possible if caught.

If they are also sociopathic (likely in a career criminal), they are also quite good at sounding penitent, and saying the right things while not caring one whit. Those are the ones who get out, and will kill without compunction if they think they have covered their tracks well enough.

Innocent people suffer when the wrong ones are set free, and it happens all the time. Innocent people are also imprisoned, perhaps because they were framed or set up by someone else, or inadequately defended. The appeals process is in place to protect them.

I'm so glad we have DNA testing available, and would love to see it used more widely to so

Brenda Gilbert
Brenda Gilbert6 years ago

Execution as punishment for a crime - however violent or heinous the crime - only serves to perpetuate the cycle of violence. It solves nothing and should have no place in a civilised society. Remember an eye for an eye leaves us all blind.
It's time the USA stepped into the 21st century and abolished the death penalty altogether