Sandra Babcock, attorney for death row prisoner Humberto Leal. She is a clinical professor and clinical director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School.
The Obama administration has urged Texas to delay tonight’s execution of a Mexican national, saying it would put the U.S. in breach of international obligations. Humberto Leal García is set to be executed for the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of Adria Sauceda, a 16-year-old girl. After his arrest, Leal was provided with court-appointed lawyers but never informed he could have access to Mexican consular officials, as is required under the United Nations’ Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Leal’s family still maintains he is innocent, and his defense attorney says his case was also hurt by inadequate counsel by his court-appointed attorney. Barring a last-minute stay by Texas Governor Rick Perry or the U.S. Supreme Court, Leal is set to be executed at 6:00 p.m. We speak with Humberto Leal’s attorney, Sandra Babcock. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The state of Texas is under international pressure to delay the execution of a Mexican citizen scheduled for 6:00 p.m. tonight. Humberto Leal was sentenced to die for his role in the 1994 rape and murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda, but the Obama administration has joined with the Mexican government to raise concerns that after Leal was arrested, he was never informed of his right to request help from Mexican consular officials. This right is guaranteed under the United Nations’ Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
Leal’s attorney says legal aid from the Mexican government may not have stopped his conviction, but it probably would have kept him off of death row. In their request for a stay of execution, they point to a pending request to reexamine DNA evidence in the case. Members of Leal’s family insist that he is innocent. This is Leal’s uncle, Alberto Rodriguez.
ALBERTO RODRIGUEZ: [translated] He has witnesses who saw the real killer, who is walking free. He also lives in San Antonio, but he’s American. We’ll wait for him here, because they’ve stripped him of his U.S. citizenship. From the moment of his sentence, he was stripped of his papers. They destroyed them. He’s another Mexican over there who is paying for something he did not do. We’ll wait for him here with open arms.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Leal’s defense team says his case was also hurt by inadequate counsel by his court-appointed attorney.
Meanwhile, legislation now pending in Congress would ensure that states comply with the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights. More than 50 Mexican citizens are on death row throughout the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, this Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole denied a request to delay Humberto Leal’s execution. So, barring a last-minute stay by Texas Governor Rick Perry or the U.S. Supreme Court, Leal is set to be executed tonight, 6:00 Texas time.
We’re going now to Houston to be joined by Humberto Leal’s attorney, Sandra Babcock. She’s a clinical professor and clinical director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! Explain the significance of this case. A number of Bush administration officials have also weighed in, saying that his rights were violated.
SANDRA BABCOCK: That’s right, Amy. This is really a unique case, because it’s more than about just one person on death row in Texas. The effects of Humberto Leal’s execution would be felt around the world, because if he is executed, it would be an irreparable breach of the country’s obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, but also under the decision of the International Court of Justice in 2004, which held that he had the right to a hearing to show exactly how the violation of his consular rights affected the fairness of his trial.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about Governor Rick Perry’s decision basically to thumb his nose at what the Obama administration and even some other Republicans in Texas are saying could be the long-term impacts of this execution?
SANDRA BABCOCK: Well, you know, it seems really short-sighted, because this is not a partisan issue. There is a bipartisan group of former military leaders, diplomats, Bush administration officials, Obama administration officials, all of whom have joined together to call on Rick Perry to stay this execution. It’s not every day that you get a group of people like that weighing in on a Texas death penalty case. And the reason for that is that this is a case that literally could affect the well-being of countless Americans who find themselves detained in foreign countries at this moment, because they relied—just as Mr. Leal was entitled to be informed of his rights to consular assistance, they are entitled, under the Vienna Convention, if they find themselves in trouble in a foreign country, to ask for the assistance of the U.S. consulate. And that literally is their lifeline to their families, to adequate legal representation, and to protect them from harm.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the legislation that’s been introduced into Congress and what this means for Leal, who could be executed tonight.
SANDRA BABCOCK: Well, Senator Patrick Leahy, about three weeks ago now, introduced a bill that would fully implement the United States’ obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice by providing access to Mr. Leal and other foreign nationals whose rights were similarly violated, to have a hearing. Really, this legislation simply provides that these nationals are entitled to have their day in court, so that they have an opportunity to prove how the violation of their consular rights affected the fairness of their trials. It’s very narrowly tailored. It would only affect a very limited group of foreign nationals who have been sentenced to death. And our position is, why rush to execution, when this bill would apply directly to Mr. Leal’s case, and Congress simply hasn’t had a chance to pass it?
JUAN GONZALEZ: And we have about 30 seconds, if you could explain to us the appeal process that he still has available to him before 6:00 tonight.
SANDRA BABCOCK: Well, right now, we’re waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court now has received briefs from both sides, as well as from the Obama administration and the government of Mexico. And of course, the government of Mexico and the Obama administration are both calling for a stay. So we’re waiting for that decision really any moment, but it has to come before 6:00, which is the time that Mr. Leal is scheduled to be executed.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sandra Babcock, we want to thank you for being with us, attorney for death row prisoner Humberto Leal. She is a clinical director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law.
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