The execution of a Mexican national scheduled for Thursday in Texas has become something of an international brouhaha.
President Obama, the State Department and Mexico have all asked Texas for a last-minute reprieve of Humberto Leal, 38, who was convicted in 1995 in the brutal rape and murder of a teenage girl. Citing the U.N.-enforced 1963 Vienna Treaty, the officials believe Leal could have altered his penalty had he been given the chance.
The treaty requires foreign nationals who are arrested in foreign countries the right to access their consulates. Texas police would have been required to inform Leal that he has the legal right to contact the Mexican consular, which could have offered him legal advice.
According to court documents, the 16-year-old victim, Adria Sauceda, was found naked when authorities discovered her body in May 1994.
"There was a 30- to 40-pound asphalt rock roughly twice the size of the victim's skull lying partially on the victim's left arm," court documents read. "Blood was underneath this rock. A smaller rock with blood on it was located near the victim's right thigh. There was a gaping hole from the corner of the victim's right eye extending to the center of her head from which blood was oozing. The victim's head was splattered with blood."
A "bloody and broken" stick roughly 15 inches long with a screw at the end of it was also protruding from the girl's vagina, according to the documents.
Critics say Leal, who was raised in the U.S. since he was 2 years old, was never given the option and, in turn, watched a jury take 45 minutes to find him guilty of raping and murdering Sauceda. Although evidence against Leal was strong, critics say he incriminated himself and had other legal difficulties.
“If Texas were to proceed with the scheduled execution of Mr. Leal ... there could be no dispute that that execution would be unlawful -- specifically, in violation of treaty commitments validly made by the United States through constitutionally prescribed processes," Sandra Babcock, a Northwestern University law professor who is one of Leal's attorneys, said last week in her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last Friday, the Obama administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop Texas from executing Leal, asking the court to delay the execution for up to six months to give Congress time to consider legislation that would enforce the U.N. treaty.
Congress reportedly had three years to pass the bill but did not. Hence, it is impossible to pass a bill that would spare Leal unless a stay is ordered.
One other possible way Leal may avoid the execution is if Texas Gov. Rick Perry grants a 30-day stay. However, a spokeswoman from his office said he has yet to make a decision on the case.
But the state of Texas appears to bristle at the idea of a foreign body affecting judgments in the state, even though President George W. Bush endorsed the U.N. ruling.
“Texas is not bound by a foreign court’s ruling,” Katherine Cesinger, press secretary for Gov. Perry's office, said in a statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the treaty was not binding on the states and that the president does not have the authority to order states to review cases of the then 51 foreign nationals on death row in the U.S.”
For 16 years, Leal has exercised his right to file appeals and motions so extensively, one judge in federal district court called his case “one of the most procedurally convoluted and complex habeas corpus proceedings” he ever reviewed.
So as it stands, the death warrant could be served any time after 6 p.m. Thursday. He will be allowed to address the media, meet family and friends and eat his last meal: fried chicken, pico de Gallo and guisada tacos.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.