The fairness of the trial was in question and the convict had not been allowed access to the consular services of his home nation. Pleas from the President to grant a temporary stay of execution were ignored by the Governor. Phone calls from the convict’s embassy were ignored. The United Nations intervened, stressing that international law was about to be violated. But to no avail. Thirty eight year old Leal Garcia was strapped to a table, put into a medically induced coma, then injected with chemicals to paralyse his organs and take his life.
Welcome to Texas.
Thursday night’s execution was the state’s 470th since it reintroduced the death penalty thirty-seven years ago. Ominously, almost half of these have taken place during the decade-long tenure of incumbent Governor Rick Perry – a man with his sights on the White House.
Of course, there is a strong likelihood that Garcia committed the horrendous murder for which he was put to death. Unlike the markedly tenuous case of death-row inmate Regie Clemons, it is broadly accepted that Garcia was guilty: that he killed a sixteen year old girl with a block of asphalt back in 1994. But, painful and emotive as the sickening crime may be, that should not detract from his right to a fair trial – including access to consular services. For Garcia was a Mexican citizen, but was never informed or allowed his basic right of legal or linguistic support from the Mexican authorities.
Not only is this a clear violation of the Vienna Convention in and of itself, but it puts other prisoners abroad at risk, should the government’s of the states where they are detained choose to follow suite and similarly deny access. It also undermines the authority of the US and states close to its government, when it comes to opposing executions elsewhere in the world. Arguments against the judicial murder of people such as Iranian teenager Sina Paymard and mentally ill British citizen Akmal Shaikh rested largely on the legal irregularities and disregard of international obligations by the Iranian and Chinese governments in the respective sentencing. The botched and unacceptable handling of Garcia’s trial flushes away any moral high ground when such situations arise.
And all of that before even considering the moral repugnancy of governments legislating people’s lives away or the shocking position of the USA in the top ten states for executions, above the likes of Burma, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. Combined with the nature of execution, the number of killings and the potential weakness of convictions as demonstrated by the Clemons case, the gaping legal holes in Garcia’s execution paint a shocking picture that those in US politics have an urgent duty to address.
Unfortunately this appears unlikely to happen anytime soon – indeed there is speculation the Governor Perry’s decision to ignore concerns and refuse any delay in the execution was a politically motivated move to boost his chances for the Republican presidential nomination. If this is the case, then the issues around the incident are multiplied significantly – for politics should never come into the judicial process of individual cases- particularly when lives are at stake.
Some level of comfort may be drawn from President Obama’s attempted intervention and by the worldwide attention. But the events that led to Leal Garcia’s death reflect a problem remains vast, serious and with wide-reaching consequences affecting everyone from American prisoners abroad, to political dissidents in dictatorial states, to activists and politicians leading the campaign for worldwide abolishment of the vile and backward practice that is judicial execution.