Texas executes Mexican national after Supreme Court rejects appeal

Mexican officials say execution of Edgar Tamayo violates an international treaty

A sign showing a photo of Texas death-row inmate Edgar Tamayo that reads in Spanish "The town of Miacatlan offers you our support, Edgar Tamayo Arias," in a protest on Sunday demanding Tamayo's pardon in his hometown of Miacatlan, Mexico.
Tony Rivera/AP

Texas executed Edgar Tamayo Wednesday night after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an 11th-hour appeal to keep the Mexican national from death at Huntsville State Penitentiary in Texas. Tamayo, 46, was convicted of fatally shooting Houston police Officer Guy Gaddis in 1994. 

The high court was considering at least two appeals. One focused on a consular issue. The other was related to whether Tamayo was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty. 

Tamayo's lawyers went to the Supreme Court after the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said an appeal this week, renewing an earlier contention that Tamayo was mentally impaired and ineligible for execution, was filed too late.

In a statement released immediately after the Supreme Court decision, Tamayo's lawyers said, "Today, Texas has once more shown its utter disregard for the rule of law and the United States' treaty commitments."

Tamayo's legal team accused prosecutors of having "steamrolled over evidence" of his "mental retardation," and called on Congress to pass legislation providing judicial review for Mexican nationals on death row in alleged violation of their consular rights.  

Texas officials had opposed appeals to stop the scheduled lethal injection, despite pleas and diplomatic pressure from the Mexican government and the U.S. State Department.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday rejected Tamayo's request for clemency.

The case has raised tensions with Mexico, which claims that Tamayo and 50 other Mexicans awaiting execution in the U.S. were convicted without being informed of their right to contact the Mexican Consulate upon arrest — a violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

As a result, Mexico argues, Tamayo was denied assistance that could have proved crucial in deciding his case.

“If Edgar Tamayo’s execution were to go ahead without his trial being reviewed and his sentence reconsidered,” Mexico's Foreign Ministry said in a statement prior to the execution,  “… it would be a clear violation of the United States’ international obligations.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to have heard that message. In a December letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Kerry urged him to reconsider the execution on the grounds that it would damage relations with Mexico and make it more difficult to protect U.S. citizens in legal trouble abroad.

Tamayo’s case shares similarities with those of other immigrants on death row. His court-appointed trial lawyer failed to present information that might have influenced his sentencing, including abuse suffered as a child and developmental problems resulting from a serious head injury suffered when he was 17. In 2009, a psychologist said Tamayo had “mild mental retardation,” which would potentially make his execution unconstitutional.

“We’re always going to be the victims of our poverty and our skin color,” Tamayo told Spanish-language outlets last week.

Edgar Tamayo
Texas Department of Criminal Justice/AP

After his trial, a little-known organization called the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program (MCLAP) worked behind the scenes on the case, providing litigation support for Tamayo’s defense attorneys. For more than a decade, MCLAP, entirely funded by the Mexican government, has helped funnel resources to lawyers representing Mexican nationals on death row.

The creation of MCLAP, in part, stems from the inadequate representation Mexican immigrants have received in the past, analysts say. The organization also provides special assistance an immigrant might need with translation services, for example, and advocates for clemency.

“It (MCLAP) doesn’t replace lawyers appointed in Texas, but it makes sure that they are doing a good job,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “They have at least raised the profile of this case from where it had been.”

(Greg Kuykendall, MCLAP’s director, told Al Jazeera via email that he does not have permission to speak to the press.)

The United Nations International Court of Justice in 2004 urged the U.S. to review the death sentences of Tamayo and 50 other Mexicans due to violations of the Vienna Convention. But in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas is not compelled to comply with the international court unless federal law directs the state to do so.

“The Supreme Court said this is not a self-executing treaty,” said Dieter, referring to the Vienna Convention. “Until legislation gets passed in the U.S. Congress and signed by the president, Texas is going to sit on these cases and not consider that they’ve been directed to do anything.”

Tamayo is the 509th person put to death by Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. He is also the third Mexican to be executed since the U.N. court urged the U.S. to review death-penalty cases. He accused Mexico’s Foreign Ministry of not doing enough in his case. He charged that government officials defended him only to look good in the press. And he said he did not want the Mexican Consulate involved in his funeral or the transportation of his body to Mexico.

“If they execute me,” Tamayo told Mexican news outlets this week, “please tell my countrymen, all of Mexico, to forgive me for having failed them and for returning in a box.”

With wire services

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Mexico, Texas
Death Penalty

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Death Penalty

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