HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A Mexican-born condemned prisoner was executed Tuesday night for the rape and murder of two teenage girls 15 years ago after a divided U.S. Supreme Court rejected his request for a reprieve.
"I'm sorry my actions caused you pain. I hope this brings you the closure that you seek. Never harbor hate," Jose Medellin said to those gathered to watch him die. Nine minutes later, at 9:57 p.m., he was pronounced dead.
Medellin's execution, the fifth this year in the nation's busiest capital punishment state, attracted international attention after he raised claims he wasn't allowed to consult the Mexican consulate for legal help following his arrest. State officials say he didn't ask to do so until well after he was convicted of capital murder.
Medellin, 33, was condemned for participating in the 1993 gang rape, beating and strangling of Elizabeth Pena, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 14. He and five fellow gang members attacked the Houston girls as they were walking home on a June night, raped and tortured them for an hour, then kicked and stomped them before using a belt and shoelaces to strangle them.
Their remains were found four days later. By then, Medellin already had bragged to friends about the killings.
Pena's father, who was among the witnesses, gently tapped the glass that separated him from Medellin as he turned to leave the witness chamber after the execution.
"We feel relieved," Adolfo Pena said after leaving the prison. "Fifteen years is a long time coming."
Several dozen demonstrators, about evenly divided between favoring and opposing capital punishment, stood outside on opposite sides of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit.
Medellin's attorneys contended he was denied the protections of the Vienna Convention, which calls for people arrested to have access to their home country's consular officials.
"Under the circumstances, it's hard to talk about what comes next," lawyer Sandra Babcock said, noting her thoughts were with Medellin's family and the family of his victims. "But now more than ever, it's important to recall this is a case not just about one Mexican national on death row in Texas. It's also about ordinary Americans who count on the protection of the consulate when they travel abroad to strange lands. It's about the reputation of the United States as a nation that adheres to the rule of law."
In Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where Medellin was born, a small group of his relatives condemned his execution.
"Only God has the right to take a life," cousin Reyna Armendariz said.
Six of his relatives, including Armendariz, and several activists gathered earlier Tuesday in a working-class neighborhood to await word on Medellin's fate.
A large black bow and a banner that read "No to the death penalty ... may God forgive you," hung from an iron fence in front of the house where Medellin lived until moving to the United States at the age of 3. He grew up in Houston, where he learned English and attended school.
The International Court of Justice said Medellin and some 50 other Mexicans on death row around the U.S. should have new hearings in U.S. courts to determine whether the 1963 treaty was violated during their arrests. Medellin was the first among them to die.
President Bush asked states to review the cases, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year neither the president nor the international court can force Texas to wait.
Gov. Rick Perry, Texas courts and the Texas attorney general's office all said the execution should go forward and that Medellin has had multiple legal reviews. State officials noted Medellin never invoked his consular rights under the Vienna Convention until some four years after he was convicted.
His lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to stop the execution until legislation could be passed to formalize case reviews ordered by the International Court of Justice.
The high court said in its ruling that that possibility was too remote to justify a stay. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of four justices who issued dissenting opinions, wrote that to permit the execution would place the United States "irremediably in violation of international law and breaks our treaty promises."
Medellin's supporters said either Congress or the Texas Legislature should have been given a chance to pass a law setting up procedures for new hearings. A bill to implement the international court's ruling wasn't introduced in Congress until last month. The Texas Legislature doesn't meet until January.
On Monday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for a reprieve and denied his lawyers permission to file new appeals. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also rejected requests for clemency and a 240-day reprieve.
One of Medellin's fellow gang members, Derrick O'Brien, was executed two years ago. Another, Peter Cantu, described as the ringleader of the group, is on death row. He does not have a death date.
Two others, Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal, had their death sentences commuted to life in prison when the Supreme Court barred executions for those who were 17 at the time of their crimes. The sixth person convicted, Medellin's brother, Vernancio, was 14 at the time and is serving a 40-year prison term.