Texas set to execute Mexican at center of diplomatic battle

WASHINGTON — As he awaits execution Tuesday for the brutal rape and murder of two Houston teenagers 15 years ago, Jose Ernesto Medellin remains at the center of a roiling treaty dispute that pits Texas against President Bush and much of the international diplomatic community.

Medellin, a Mexican national who has lived in the United States most of his life, has sought unsuccessfully to challenge his conviction by asserting that arresting officers violated a four-decade-old international treaty by failing to allow him access to Mexican consular officials.

Through years of appeals that took his attorneys on two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court, Medellin's assertion of his treaty rights was embraced by an unlikely coalition of legal allies that included the Bush administration, the International Court of Justice and high-ranking diplomatic officials.

Now, in the countdown to his death by injection, those same forces are united in a final effort to delay his execution and allow a court hearing on his consular-access claims.

Allowing the execution to go forward without a hearing, they say, would discredit the United States' commitment to its treaty obligations and prompt other countries to retaliate against U.S. citizens.

"Texas . . . has the power to stop the execution," said Medellin's co-counsel, Sandra Babcock of Chicago. "If Texas doesn't stop the execution, Texas is going to be responsible for putting the United States in breach of its international obligations."

But Gov. Rick Perry has thus far shown little inclination to stop the execution, despite written appeals from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

"He doesn't feel any pressure on this," said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for the governor. "This is an individual who along with five others brutally and viciously gang-raped, stomped, kicked, slashed, strangled and murdered two young teenage girls.

"We don't care where you're from. If you commit a despicable crime like this in Texas, you'll face the ultimate penalty under our laws."

Castle noted, however, that Perry has not made a final decision and is awaiting the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The board is expected to rule today on a petition to grant Medellin an eight-month reprieve, which his attorneys say would give Congress or the Texas Legislature time to pass legislation allowing state or federal court hearings for Medellin and other Mexican nationals on Death Rows.

Medellin and other members of the Black and Whites gang were sentenced to death for raping and killing Jennifer Lee Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, after the girls stumbled into a gang initiation while hurrying home from a party in 1993.

Witnesses said Medellin, who confessed to being involved, later bragged about the assault and described using a shoelace to strangle one of the girls because he didn't have a gun to kill her, according to a Texas Supreme Court brief. Medellin, then 19, also "put his foot on her throat because she would not die," the brief said.

"Jose Medellin is nothing more than a poster boy for the death penalty," said Jennifer’s father, Randy Ertman, who now lives in a country residence near Somerville with Sandra, his wife of more than 30 years. "He's been on Death Row longer than Jennifer was alive."

Ertman, a house painter, said he and Sandra plan to witness the execution at the Huntsville Unit of the Texas prison system. "You can't explain what we've been through and what we still have to go through," he said in a telephone interview. "It's indescribable. You can't put it in words."

The execution is scheduled for after 6 p.m. Tuesday. Medellin, 33, has declined the customary last meal and nearly all media requests for interviews, said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

He has invited three attorneys, including Babcock, and a friend to witness the execution. The victims' families will also witness.

Medellin has been confined to a 6  1/2 -by-10-foot cell at Death Row in the Polunsky Unit, about 30 miles from the Huntsville Unit. He has shown "no behavioral problems and has a list of friends that visit," Lyons said.

Medellin penned a lengthy introduction to himself, inviting correspondence, on a prisoner Web site sponsored by the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty. "Don’t feel sorry for me," he wrote. "I’m where I'm at because I made an adolescent choice.  . . .  I've grown up behind bars and if the state gets its wish, I'll die behind a locked steel door."

The slaying rocked Houston, but Medellin gained international attention for pressing the treaty issue. Under the treaty that created the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in 1963, a detained foreign national in any of the 166 participating countries is entitled to consular officials "without delay."

In 2004, the International Court of Justice, commonly known as the world court, ruled that 51 Mexican defendants including Medellin were not properly notified of their rights to consular access and therefore were entitled to new hearings. Bush subsequently ordered states to comply with the ruling, but the Supreme Court, ruling in March that the president had overstepped his authority, rejected Medellin's appeal.

In their letters to Perry, Rice and Mukasey cited the United States' international legal obligation. "Put simply, the United States seeks the help of the State of Texas."

Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said U.S. failure to comply with the treaty obligations will "reduce American standing in the world" and endanger thousands of U.S. citizens arrested overseas each year.