USA: Texas execution would violate international court ruling

The Texas authorities must halt the execution of Mexican national Edgar Arias Tamayo, set to take place on 22 January, which would violate an international court order, Amnesty International said today. 

“Texas has been shamefully insistent in scheduling this execution in the full knowledge that to carry it out will violate international law,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s researcher on the USA.

Edgar Arias Tamayo was sentenced to death for the murder of a Houston police officer in January 1994. The execution is set to go ahead despite an order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004.

Last September, US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote to the Texas Governor, Rick Perry, urging that an execution date not be set for Edgar Tamayo. The letter reiterated that the ICJ’s ruling “is binding on the United States under international law”.

“The federal authorities, and officials around the country, should not let up on Texas. A Texas execution is a US execution. Even if Texas officials don’t care about this, those in the rest of the country should,” said Rob Freer.

The basis of the |CJ order was that Edgar Tamayo, along with other Mexican nationals, was not informed of his right to seek consular advice without delay after his arrest. This denied him assistance that could have provided pivotal evidence in the case. 

Edgar Tamayo’s trial lawyer failed to present a range of mitigation including the deprivations and abuse his client suffered as a child, his developmental problems and the impact on his behaviour of a very serious head injury he suffered when he was 17. 

In 2008 a psychologist put Edgar Tamayo’s intellectual functioning in the “mild mental retardation” range, which would render his execution unconstitutional under US law. 

“The denial of consular rights can literally mean the difference between life and death in the USA, where representation for people facing death penalty charges unable to pay for their own lawyers, has frequently been inadequate,” said Rob Freer.

“If Edgar Tamayo’s jury had heard the sort of evidence uncovered since his trial with the help of the Mexican authorities, it is surely possible that one or more jurors would have voted for life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.” 

The 2004 International Court of Justice ruling ordered the USA to ensure judicial review and reconsideration in the cases of more than 50 Mexican nationals – including Tamayo – sentenced to death after their consular rights were denied. Yet Edgar Tamayo’s claim that he was prejudiced by this violation of international law has to this day never been reviewed by any court.

Former Texas Governor and Attorney General Mark White earlier this week called on the current governor and attorney general to uphold the promise they made in 2008 to support judicial review. White, who personally supports the death penalty, stressed that it was a question of “fairness and having the courts hear all the key facts”. Such review, he said, “could have made a real difference” in Tamayo’s case. 

The execution would also contravene a November 2013 request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calling on the Texas authorities not to execute Edgar Tamayo until the Commission had reviewed the claims of his mental retardation.

Amnesty International members around the world, including in Mexico and the USA, have been calling on Texas to halt the execution.

 “Texas is no stranger to violating international law in its use of the death penalty. Let’s hope that, for a change, Texas authorities will listen to reason, live up to their promise, and comply with their  obligations,” said Rob Freer.