The facts of the case are not in dispute.
Miguel Angel Flores, then 20, abducted, raped and stabbed to death
a college student in Hutchinson County, Texas, in 1989. He is
scheduled to be put to death for his crime Thursday.
The case might have escaped notice outside Texas, except that authorities there failed to notify Mexican consular officials that the Mexican-born defendant had been arrested.
Such notification is required under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Mexican officials did not learn of Flores’ fate until a year after his death sentence was handed down in 1990.
The notion that the legal process against Flores was stacked against him as a result of the omission has become an issue in U.S.-Mexican relations and generated critical comment from a number of foreign governments.
State Dept. Weighs In It also triggered a highly unusual appeal by the State Department to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles that it consider a request for clemency that Flores has been seeking.
“Foreign citizens are uniquely vulnerable when confronted with another country’s legal system,” says Mark Warren, who monitors death penalty cases for Amnesty International. “Consular access is essential to ensure that foreign nationals facing prosecution receive fair and humane treatment under the local legal system.”
Jose Antonio Zabalgoitia, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy, says the absence of consular notification left Flores’ defense in the hands of a court-appointed attorney who showed little interest in his case.
“If at start of case the consulate had been informed, the consul would have assured he would have got adequate representation,” Zabalgoitia says.
Warren says Flores’ lawyer presented no character witnesses and didn’t tell the jury that Flores had no prior criminal record. He says Flores has served as a prison trusty on death row without incident.
Zabalgoitia adds that the psychological evaluation of Flores was done by a psychologist “who did not bother to interview him.”
Flores asked the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, but the request had not been acted on as of Tuesday.
From Other Countries to Death Row
It turns out that the Flores case is not isolated. According to Warren’s figures, 90 foreign-born U.S. residents from 31 countries face the death penalty. In only three of the cases, he says, has there been compliance with the Vienna Convention.
He says local U.S. jurisdictions are not complying with the requirement, partly because violations carry no penalty.
A State Department official who follows the issue could not confirm Warren’s figures but said the department has made a concerted effort to notify all 19,000 U.S. jurisdictions with arrest authority of their responsibilities under the Vienna Convention. That task is being carried out by a special office created in 1997 by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday the procedural missteps by Texas authorities were not “sufficient cause for the sentence to be overturned.”
At the same time, the department sent a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that it “give careful consideration to Flores pending clemency request, including taking into account apparent Vienna Convention violations.”
The letter noted that Texas Gov. George W. Bush doesn’t have authority to grant clemency without a positive recommendation from the board. Bush and the board are reviewing the case, the governor’s office said Monday.
Mexico has been receiving outside support for its efforts on Flores’ behalf. Letters to Texas authorities have been written in support of Flores by the ambassadors of France, Argentina, Spain, Switzerland and Poland.
Germany, meanwhile, is preparing to sue the United States in the International Court of Justice in the Hague over the execution of two brothers in Arizona last year. State officials had not advised them of their consular rights. Opening arguments in the case are expected to begin next week.