Planned execution of Mexican national draws international ire

Mexican officials and United Nations human rights experts have called for a stop to a Texas execution that is hours away.

The man sentenced to die Wednesday evening, Mexican national Ruben Cárdenas, was never given the chance to speak to his country’s consulate after his arrest more than 20 years ago, a violation of an international treaty. Cárdenas also was not provided a lawyer until 11 days after his arrest, and his representatives claim evidence against him is faulty and his confession was coerced.

“If the scheduled execution of Mr. Cárdenas goes ahead, the US Government will have implemented a death penalty without complying with international human rights standards,” said Agnes Callamard and Elina Steinerte, independent experts with the U.N.’s Human Rights system, in a news release.

Cárdenas was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1997 Edinburg murder of his 16-year-old cousin, Mayra Laguna. After hours of interrogation, Cárdenas confessed that he snuck into his cousin’s room through an open window early on a February morning and then kidnapped, raped and killed her before leaving her body near a canal, according to court records.

Under the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, all arrestees from a foreign country must be told they can notify their consulate and receive regular consultation from them during their detention. In 2004, the U.N.’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that the U.S. violated this treaty with more than 50 Mexican nationals on death row, including Cárdenas. A ruling ordered that all the cases should be reconsidered before execution.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that even though the treaty created obligations for the federal government, it didn’t force anything on the states, according to a federal appellate court’s ruling denying Cárdenas’ appeal on the consulate violation.

“ICJ decisions do not become domestic law absent a Congressional enactment,” the order said.

The Mexican government still says the violation is “illegal,” according to a Reuters report.

On Monday, the country’s deputy foreign minister for North America, Carlos Sada, told reporters that Texas prosecutors didn’t follow due process and that his country is looking to stay the execution. Mexico does not have the death penalty.

In recent appeals filed in state courts, Cárdenas' legal team has said bad practices in eyewitness identifications, DNA evidence and confessions led to Cárdenas’ conviction.

“To permit Mr. Cardenas’s conviction to stand without further examination and testing would undermine Texas’s commitment to addressing the epidemic of wrongful convictions, and would facilitate the execution of a potentially innocent man,” attorney Maurie Levin wrote in an appeal filed last week.

Evidence used against Cárdenas at trial included an eyewitness who could not identify him in a lineup but could at his trial — a practice that was prohibited by the Texas Legislature this year in an effort to prevent wrongful convictions. His legal team also argues that DNA testing done nearly 20 years ago is now obsolete.

The crux of Cárdenas’ conviction, however, was based on his confessions. Cárdenas’ account changed slightly during days of interrogation — the first 11 of which he did not have an attorney. He asked for a lawyer at his first appearance hearing two days after his arrest, according to the filing.

Levin argued that Cárdenas’ confessions are “false and extremely unreliable,” citing inconsistencies between his confessions and facts of the crime. Some of the inconsistencies she described are the lack of forensic evidence of sexual activity even though he said he raped his cousin and his statement that he killed her in the back of the car despite only two small drops of blood being found there.

The state argued against the false confession argument with a simple statement: Cárdenas led police to the body when they were searching miles away.

“An independently corroborated confession, one that contains information unknown to the police and known only to someone involved, is extraordinarily strong evidence of guilt,” wrote Michael Morris, Hidalgo County’s assistant criminal district attorney.

On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Cárdenas’ latest appeals, where he pleaded for a stay of execution and additional DNA testing. Levin said Tuesday that her legal team had filed a civil rights suit in Austin challenging the state’s “perfunctory decision denying Mr. Cardenas the opportunity to test the critical DNA evidence that could exonerate him.”

She said another petition will be filed at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. If no court or Gov. Greg Abbott stops the execution, Cárdenas will be the seventh execution in Texas this year.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/11/08/planned-execution-mexican-national-draws-international-ire/.

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