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USA: Death penalty: Cesar R Fierro, Mexican national:

, N° d'index: AMR 51/068/1997

The above-named individual is scheduled to be executed in Texas on 19 November 1997.

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
judge recommended, in 1994, that Cesar Fierro be given a new trial. In 1996,
however, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to follow the
recommendation after creating a new “harmless error” rule. This enabled the
Court to dismiss the appeal by stating that the police misconduct did not require
the conviction to be overturned.
In an opinion dissenting from the majority, Judge Oversheet stated: “One can
have eyewitness testimonial evidence, circumstantial evidence, scientific
evidence, and even videotaped evidence; but a confession explicitly admitting
guilt signed by the defendant is the most powerful piece of evidence that can
ever be introduced against him and will surely serve as the key that will lock
the jail-house door and provide the juice to power the electric chair; and
in these more civilized times, the juice for the needle. Because the majority
finds that the perjurious testimony which paved the way for the erroneous
admission of applicant's involuntary coerced confession was immaterial, i.e.
not harmful, I strongly dissent with principle.”
The Texas authorities have additionally failed to carry out the requirement
of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), ratified by the USA
in 1969, which entitled Fierro to contact the Mexican Embassy for assistance.
The Convention stipulates that the appropriate foreign government officials
must be informed when one of their nationals is arrested, in order that they
may have the opportunity to offer their citizen legal assistance. Article
36(1b) of the Convention clearly states: The said authorities shall inform
the person concerned without delay of his rights under this sub-paragraph.”
(Emphasis added).
Mexican officials believe that, had they been notified of Fierro’s arrest,
their timely intervention would have prevented Fierro’s forced confession.
The Attorney General for the State of Chihuahua has also submitted a sworn
statement that his office would have intervened to prevent the illegal detention
of Fierro’s family members.
In Texas the governor may commute a sentence of death only if he receives a
favourable recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Board
consistently refuses to hold full clemency hearings in death penalty cases.
Apart from a number of commutations granted in the 1980s as the result of
two key court rulings the Board has never recommended clemency in any death
penalty case in recent years.
On 14 October 1997, there were 440 prisoners under sentence of death in Texas.
On 28 October 1997 Kenneth Ranson became the most recent person to be executed
and the 32nd in Texas this year. The method used is lethal injection.
Two Mexican nationals have been executed in the USA during 1997, despite the
violation of the Vienna Convention in their cases; Irineo Montoya was executed
in Texas on 18 June and Mario Murphy was executed in Virginia on 17 September.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please telephone/send telegrams/faxes/express letters in
English or your own language:
To the Board of Pardons and Paroles
- expressing deep concern that Cesar Fierro is scheduled to be executed in
Texas on 19 November;
- urging the Board to recommend that Governor Bush grant clemency to Cesar
- expressing concern that Cesar Fierro's confession was made under duress and
that this issue has not been addressed by the courts (please quote from Judge
Oversheet’s dissenting opinion;
- expressing concern that Cesar Fierro was denied his right to seek legal
assistance from the Mexican authorities under the rules of the Vienna
- referring to the recent statement by the prosecutor at the time of Fierro's
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
Executive Clemency Unit
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Pardons and Paroles Division
PO Box 13401, Austin, TX 78711, USA
Telephone: + 1 512 406 5852
Telegrams: Pardons and Paroles Board, Austin, Texas, USA
Faxes: + 1 512 467 0945
Salutation: Dear Board Members
The Honourable Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State, State Department
2201 C Street N.W., Washington DC 20520, USA
Telephone: + 1 202 647 5291
Faxes: + 1 202 647 1533
and to diplomatic representatives of the USA accredited to your country.

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