Humberto Leal faces execution on July 7 in Texas for the 1994 murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio. As a Mexican national, Leal was supposed to be informed that he could contact his diplomatic representatives for legal assistance, but he was never told this.
The Vienna Convention of Consular Relations (VCCR) is a treaty that requires any foreign national arrested outside their own country to be notified of their right to contact their consulate or embassy for help. This applies to US citizens traveling in Mexico (or anywhere else) just as much as to Mexican citizens inside the USA. Obviously for Americans abroad this is a pretty important protection. Unfortunately, US authorities don’t always respect this right when arresting non-US citizens; and some, like Leal, have ended up on death row.
Leal was one of 51 Mexican nationals on US death rows who challenged this pattern of neglect in the US, and in 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in Mexico’s favor. Executing Humberto Leal now would be a flagrant violation of international law.
Had Leal gotten the assistance he was entitled to ask for, he may not have been sentenced to death in the first place. His court appointed lawyers called only one witness during the guilt/innocence phase of his trial and failed to challenge notoriously unreliable “bite-mark” evidence used to convict him. Since the trial, Mexican assistance has disclosed that Leal suffers from brain damage and was sexually molested by his parish priest as a child. The jury never heard this mitigating evidence because Leal did not have the assistance of Mexican representatives during the trial.
Our courts have been unwilling and/or unable to bring the USA into compliance with the ICJ ruling. Now Senator Patrick Leahy has introduced legislation designed to guarantee that non-US citizens facing execution in the USA are allowed to challenge the denial of their consular access rights.
Several retired military and State Department officials, and many former prosecutors and judges support a reprieve for Humberto Leal. In the interests of justice, both local and international, Texas should grant him clemency and commute his death sentence.