San Diego Union Tribune

August 13, 2002 

Fox appeals to Texas governor to halt execution of Mexican


WASHINGTON – Mexican President Vicente Fox, weighing in on a case that has attracted international attention, has appealed to Texas Gov. Rick Perry to suspend tomorrow's scheduled execution of a Mexican man found guilty of murdering an undercover narcotics officer.

Calling the case a matter "of the highest priority for my government," Fox said Texas authorities had "flagrantly violated" the right of Javier Suárez Medina to the assistance of Mexican Consulate officials at his 1989 trial.

Those rights are guaranteed by an international treaty signed by the United States, Fox said.

The letter, released by the Mexican Embassy yesterday in Washington, comes two weeks before Fox is due to travel to Texas, where he is scheduled to meet with Perry in Austin and President Bush at his Crawford ranch.

A Mexican government official said the looming executi on is so
sensitive that Fox might cancel the meeting if Perry spurns his request to delay Suárez's lethal injection scheduled for tomorrow evening.

"That is a possibility that has been discussed, but we're not sure that would happen" if the execution takes place, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Fox wrote that by violating Suárez's right to consular advice, "not only was Mr. Suárez deprived of his right to benefit from his country's assistance when he most needed it, but also the Mexican government was blocked from providing the priority assistance that could well have influenced the result of the trial."

Anticipating his scheduled meeting with Perry in the state capital of
Austin, Fox wrote, "I hope that in the coming days we will be able
personally to discuss this urgent matter, which has aroused profound concern in Mexico."

Mexican officials claim that the process by which Suárez, 33, received the death penalty was also tainted. They said the jury that imposed the sentence was improperly influenced by an unsubstantiated claim that Suárez had been convicted of a prior offense.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals yesterday declined Suárez's
request for a new trial or commutation to a life sentence.

"He provided no justification or excuse for belatedly raising claims,
which he could have presented at an earlier time," Richard Wetzel, the court's general counsel, told The Associated Press.

At an embassy news conference yesterday in Washington, Mexican
officials said they had rallied the support of 11 countries who had
agreed to file a "friend-of-the-court" brief if the Suárez case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This represents an unprecedented number of foreign countries that
have joined in signing an 'amicus' brief before the United States
Supreme Court," said Sandra Babcock, an attorney retained by the
Mexican Foreign Ministry in the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court would be the last recourse should the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole decide not to recommend that Perry stay the execution. Maria Ramirez, clemency administrator for the board of pardons and parole, said she expected the board would vote today. 

"But they have right up to the execution date" to vote, Ramirez said. She said the 17 members, all appointed by the governor, would cast their votes via fax. They do not meet to discuss the case, she said.

Mexican officials in Washington said they are not optimistic that the board, which has a hard-line reputation, will vote in Suárez's favor.

They said their best chance might lie with the U.S. Supreme Court,
which they hope would be influenced by a decision last year in the
International Court of Justice in the Hague.

That court found that Arizona authorities had violated international
law when they prevented German consular authorities from providing assistance to two German brothers found guilty of murder. The men were executed in 1999. The case caused an uproar in Germany, where the death penalty was abolished after World War II.

Columbia University political science professor Rodolfo de la Garza,
noting that Mexico has not carried out the death penalty since the
1930s, said Mexicans are particularly sensitive about perceived harsh treatment meted out to their countrymen in the United States.

"They see the death penalty as a manifestation of American racism and imperialism," de la Garza said. "There is a long history of
discrimination, a long history of abuse."

There are 457 offenders on death row in Texas prisons, according to
figures supplied by the state. The Mexican Embassy said 54 Mexican
nationals are on death row. In addition, the embassy said 140
Mexicans face charges for which the death penalty could be imposed.

Jerry Kammer: (202) 737-7681;