HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A Honduran man who killed his former boss and wounded an employee was scheduled to be executed Thursday evening, which would make him the second foreign national executed in Texas this week.
Ramon Valladares, the Honduran consular assistance director, said from Tegucigalpa that his government was lobbying U.S. authorities to stop the execution.
Heliberto Chi was in the United States illegally at the time of the 2001 slaying. Lawyers for the Central American country said the fact that Chi was not permitted to contact anyone from his government after he was arrested in California and extradited to Texas was a violation of an international treaty.
The argument is similar to the one raised earlier this week by another condemned Texas prisoner, Mexican-born Jose Medellin, who was executed late Tuesday night for his part in a gruesome gang rape-slayings of two teenage Houston girls 15 years ago.
Unlike Medellin, however, Chi was not among some 50 death row inmates around the country — all Mexican born — who the International Court of Justice ruled should get new hearings in U.S. courts to determine whether the 1963 Vienna Convention treaty was violated during their arrests. That ruling was prompted by Mexico suing the United States in the world court in 2003.
While Medellin's case was being considered Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court, a judge in Texas refused a request from Chi's lawyer to withdraw Chi's execution date until legislation formalizing procedures for reviews of capital cases involving foreign nationals becomes law.
An appeal seeking to halt the execution, which would be the sixth this year in Texas, was turned down Thursday by Texas' highest criminal court. His lawyers then filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chi, 29, was spared the death chamber last September when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped his scheduled punishment after the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether lethal injection procedures were unconstitutionally cruel. His date was reset for Thursday when the court earlier this year upheld the method as proper.
Chi said little about his crime in an interview with The Associated Press shortly before his execution date last year.
"My situation is not about being innocent or guilty," he said. "My rights were violated. I'm a Christian. I know about the Lord. If it's the Lord's will, things happen. I have great peace in my mind and soul."
Chi was convicted of murdering his former boss, Armand Paliotta, at a men's clothing store in suburban Dallas where he had once worked as a tailor. Paliotta let him in one night when Chi showed up saying he had left his wallet behind when he visited the store earlier in the day.
Then Chi pulled a gun.
By the time he fled with a money bag, Paliotta was dead and another employee was wounded. A third employee, an assistant manager, hid beneath a rack of clothes, called police and left the phone line open. Chi's voice was captured on tape as he hunted for the hiding assistant manager, urging her in Spanish to "Come to the front" of the store.
He jumped into a waiting car as police were en route. The tape was played at Chi's trial.
"Not only was there eyewitness testimony, but that assistant manager got out a 911 call, and you could hear Chi in the background on the phone," said Mick Meyer, who prosecuted Chi. "It was pretty solid evidence right there."
Witnesses said Paliotta, 56, was shot and killed when he shoved the gun-wielding Chi and started to run. An 18-year-old store employee also tried to run and was shot. He recovered and testify against Chi.
Chi was arrested in Reseda, California, northwest of Los Angeles, about six weeks after the robbery and shootings when his 18-year-old pregnant girlfriend turned him for assaulting her. The couple had been on the run for 43 days, crisscrossing the country from Iowa to Minnesota to West Virginia and eventually to California. Authorities said at the time of the arrest that they had planned to flee to Honduras.
"He was identified by survivors, he had fled Texas, which is not particularly helpful," Bill Harris, who was one of Chi's trial lawyers, said. "He never was willing to acknowledge he committed the crime. We really didn't have evidence to put on."
Four other prisoners are set to die this month, including two more next week. They're among at least 15 Texas inmates with execution dates in the coming months.