EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 51/68/97
EXTRA 149/97 Death Penalty 3 November 1997
USA (Texas) Cesar R FIERRO, Mexican national
Cesar Fierro, a Mexican national from Cuidad Juarez, is scheduled to be executed
in Texas on 19 November 1997.
Cesar Fierro was sentenced to death in February 1980 for the murder of a white
taxi driver, Nicolas Castanon, in El Paso (one mile from the Mexican border)
in February 1979. Fierro was convicted on the testimony of a juvenile
eyewitness, who is allegedly mentally-impaired, some five months after the
murder, and his own testimony which, it has since emerged, was obtained under
duress by US police. The eyewitness claimed to have accompanied Fierro in
the taxi on the night of the murder and witnessed him shoot Castanon.
According to Fierro's attorneys, Juárez police (working in collaboration with
US police to establish Fierro's whereabouts subsequent to the eyewitness
statement) raided the home of Cesar Fierro in Juárez and arrested his mother
and step-father, taking two letters from their home. They proceeded to
interrogate them for several hours at a police station in an isolated mountain
area. At trial Fierro's step-father testified that Juárez police threatened
to attach a cattle prod to his genitals unless he gave them the information
they were looking for.
At Fierro’s appeal it emerged that Fierro had testified, at a pre-trial
suppression hearing, that during his interrogation the chief investigating
officer informed him that his family would remain in the detention of Juárez
police unless he signed the confession. He was shown the letters taken from
his family’s home and allowed to verify this with the Juárez police themselves
by phone. Immediately after speaking with them, Fierro signed a confession.
His mother and step-father were released hours later.
At Fierro’s trial, however, US police denied having knowledge of the detention
of Fierro’s family in Mexico. His attorneys have appealed to state courts
to demonstrate that the police suppressed this important information at trial
and that they used this information to coerce his confession. Evidence to
substantiate this has emerged in a police report, dated 1 August 1979 and signed
by the chief investigating officer, indicating that US police were aware of
the detention of Fierro’s family during the interrogation of Fierro. This
is substantiated by affidavits obtained recently from both the said officer
and a former police officer.
A recent affidavit from the prosecutor at Fierro’s trial (no longer the District
Attorney) states that, given that the US police were aware of the arrest of
Fierro’s family during his interrogation, this evidence was in fact "highly
relevant" and that the police concealed this information from him. He goes
on to say "I am familiar with the reputation of the Juárez police for engaging
in torture...I believe that [the investigating officer] and [the Juárez police]
colluded to coerce Fierro's confession", and that had he known about this
information previously "...I would have joined in a motion to suppress the
confession. Had the confession been suppressed, I would have moved to dismiss
the case unless I could have corroborated [the eye-witness'] testimony. My
experience as a prosecutor indicates that the judge would have granted the
motion as a matter of course."
In the light of new evidence of police misconduct and perjury an El Paso district