Date: 14 June 2011
EXECUTION PLANNED DESPITE WORLD COURT ORDER
Established in 1945, the ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Among other things, its role is to settle, in
accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by governments. Mexico brought its VCCR case against the USA
in 2003, resulting in the ICJ’s judgment in Avena and Other Mexican Nationals handed down on 31 March 2004. The USA has
yet to comply with the Avena judgment, even though it agrees that it is obliged to do so.
On 28 February 2005, then-President George W. Bush responded to the ICJ decision by seeking to have the state courts provide
the necessary “review and reconsideration” in all of the affected cases. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later ruled that the
President lacked the constitutional authority to order state court compliance and that the Avena decision was not enforceable in
the domestic courts. The case went to the US Supreme Court. Although the State of Texas argued that the President had
overstepped his authority, it acknowledged that “Nobody disputes that the United States has an international law obligation to
satisfy Avena.” On 25 March 2008, in Medellín v. Texas, the Supreme Court unanimously found that the Avena decision
“constitutes an international law obligation on the part of the United States.” The Court also unanimously agreed that the reasons
for complying with the ICJ judgment were “plainly compelling,” since its domestic enforcement would uphold “United States
interests in ensuring the reciprocal observance of the Vienna Convention, protecting relations with foreign governments, and
demonstrating commitment to the role of international law.” However, a 6-3 majority ruled that the ICJ’s decision “is not
automatically binding domestic law” and that the authority for implementing it rested not with the President but with Congress
A clemency petition recently filed with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asks the Board to recommend that Governor Perry
commute Humberto Leal’s death sentence, or at a minimum grant a reprieve of at least 180 days to provide Congress with the
time to pass the necessary legislation to implement the Avena judgment. A number of retired US military officials, former US
diplomats and officials from the US Department of State, former US prosecutors, and former federal and state judges have
appealed for such a reprieve, stressing the importance of the USA complying and being seen to comply with its international
In addition, the clemency petition presents evidence of inadequate legal representation by the state-appointed trial lawyers, who
called only one witness at the guilt phase of the trial and failed to challenge the reliance by the state on notoriously unreliable
“bite-mark” evidence, on misleading testimony from a DNA expert, and on the use of an unreliable test for blood evidence in
Humberto Leal’s car. The petition also asserts that the state courts have denied Humberto Leal access to biological material that
has yet to be submitted to modern DNA testing, evidence that his lawyers argue could establish his innocence of capital murder.
The clemency petition also presents mitigating evidence that the jury never heard that has only recently emerged, with Mexico’s
assistance. This includes evidence that Humberto Leal was sexually abused by his parish priest at the age of 10 and that he
suffers from brain damage resulting from untreated childhood head injuries. The sentencing phase of his 1995 trial lasted less
than a day. In order to secure a death sentence, the prosecution had to persuade the jury that Humberto Leal would likely
commit acts of criminal violence if allowed to live, even in prison (in his 16 years on death row, Humberto Leal is reported to
have committed no acts of violence). The prosecution introduced allegations against Humberto Leal of a sexual assault of another
16-year-old girl about two weeks before the murder of Adria Sauceda. He had never been charged or tried for this alleged crime.
In 2009, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that Humberto Leal’s fair trial rights had been violated as
a result of the lack of compliance with the VCCR, the inadequacy of his trial representation, and the state’s use against him at
the sentencing phase of evidence of a crime for which he had not been charged, tried or convicted. The Commission stated that if
this death sentence were to be carried out it would constitute a “deliberate and egregious” violation of the right to life under the
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, regardless of the crime, the offender, or the method of execution.
There have been 1,254 executions in the USA since judicial killing resumed there in 1977. Texas accounts for 468 of these
executions, and has carried out four of the 20 executions in the USA so far this year.
UA: 178/11 Index: AMR 51/052/2011 Issue Date: 14 June 2011