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Bipartisan Agreement: TX Execution Threatens Safety of Americans Abroad

June 7, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - The planned execution of a Mexican man next month in Texas is sparking bipartisan appeals to Governor Rick Perry. The 1994 prosecution of Humberto Leal Garcia violated international law, according to an array of retired military leaders, judges, and diplomats, who say Leal was deprived of assistance from his government until after his conviction.

His attorney, Sandra Babcock, is filing a reprieve petition today. She believes the issue is bigger than justice for one man. When the U.S. violates its treaties, she says, it encourages other countries to do the same, putting hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk of languishing helplessly in foreign jails.

"U.S. service members, missionaries, teachers, businessmen. Really there are so many different people - in addition to those of us who just like to vacation abroad - who really depend on this lifeline of consular assistance."

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that foreigners are, in fact, protected by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed by 173 countries, but that Congress needs to amend domestic law to match provisions of the treaty.

Such legislation is expected to be introduced soon. The question is, will Leal be put to death before statutes require review of his conviction?

Babcock, who is a professor of law at Northwestern University in Chicago, says if the execution proceeds as scheduled on July 7, it would send a message that the U.S. picks and chooses which international commitments to honor.

"And if we do that, then what incentive does any country have to enter into a treaty with us about nuclear arms, business negotiations, cooperation in the fight against global terror?"

Consular assistance, Babcock says, is crucial for understanding one's rights under the laws of foreign countries. Leal, who has learning disabilities, was arrested when he was 21 for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old in San Antonio. He maintains his innocence.

Babcock says he was convicted using "junk science" and had shoddy representation.

"He had no prior experience in the criminal justice system. He had no record. Just the kind of person who has the vulnerabilities that consular assistance can make a real difference. And in this case, I think, it would have made a difference between life and death."

Among those imploring Governor Perry and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop Leal's execution are Americans who know first-hand what it's like to be arrested in a foreign country: the journalist Euna Lee, imprisoned in North Korea until former President Clinton helped negotiate her release; and Billy Hayes, whose story of his 1970s arrest in Turkey became the movie, "Midnight Express."

For documentation of the Leal reprieve petition, as well as letters mentioned, go to
www.humbertoleal.org. The site is to go live as of Tuesday, June 7.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX