Sensational news is part of everyday American living.
The Casey Anthony trial that kept the televisions on as second-by-second coverage flashed in real time across the cable networks is a case in point. I know this because every time I grunted my way through a workout at the local YMCA, screens on the machines flickered courtroom images at me. The she murdered her 2 year old child faction faced off against the she didn’t do it, or the dad did it factions across the country. People flew to Orlando, Florida to grab prime seats, as each unsavoury detail was drip-fed to the salivating public. Ms. Anthony has escaped the death penalty and is being sentenced instead for lying to investigators about her daughter’s death. She goes free on July 17th. We are left wondering what the truth is.
Here in Texas we have had our own judicial drama this week though it has not received the same publicity or comment, the crime and the conviction having taken place in 1994. A brutal rape and murder of a Texas teenager deserves punishment. And Humberto Leal Jr. has indeed been punished. At 6:21 pm on Thursday 7th July 2011 Texas executed their seventh man for the year.
A lot of that goes on in the Lone Star State; seventeen in 2010, twenty-one in 2009 and eighteen in 2008. Research assures me though that since the law was changed in 2005 to state life imprisonment means life without parole, the numbers have gone down from 446 on death row then to 318 in 2011. I only go back to 2008 because that was the last time the State executed a foreign national without offering consular access. Mr. Leal was from Mexico as was Jose Medellin, the man executed in 2008. Leal might well have been in this country since a young child but he was still a foreign national.
Whatever one feels about the death sentence it is not right to invoke such a punishment on a prisoner who has not had the benefit of consular assistance from his country. The United Nations’ Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which the United States is a signatory, says so. Commonsense says so.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a bid for a 180-day stay of execution so a bill brought to the table by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, could be passed allowing a federal review into the case: specifically to decide if lack of consular access had been detrimental to the Mr. Leal’s case.
Former diplomats, the Mexican government, even the President, all tried to convince the courts that their action could spur a tit-for-tat response from countries who might have US citizens in custody. Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican Ambassador attempted to appeal directly to Governor Perry of Texas, but neither the Governor nor his office had anything to say.
Will a United States citizen, specifically a Texan, have to be imprisoned, on the verge of execution, and not having had the benefit of advice from a US Consulate, before Texas courts realise their roughshod actions do indeed have consequences for Americans abroad?
This surely is a cause for sensationalist reporting.