HIDALGO COUNTY, TX (The Houston Chronicle) – Texas next month is poised to execute a Mexican national accused [convicted] of rape and murder in a case that could further inflame border tensions over apparent violations of the Vienna Convention and international law.
The Mexican government is now funding legal efforts by Ruben Cardenas Ramirez to halt his execution after authorities neglected to notify Mexico about the arrest and failed to hold a review required by the United Nations’ international court in The Hague.
“It is as if the United States were thumbing its nose at the government of Mexico and the United Nations,” said Sandra Babcock, a Cornell Law School professor specializing in international issues surrounding capital punishment. “And when I say the U.S., I should be clear that we’re talking about Texas.”
To make matters worse, the condemned man’s lawyer is alleging that he didn’t actually commit the crime that earned him a death sentence in the first place.
But according to Hidalgo County prosecutor Ted Hake, the U.N. ruling is “not enforceable” and there’s no mechanism to hold the required review under Texas law.
“There’s no point,” he said. “This guy is guilty as sin.”
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has weighed in with a recommendation that the U.S. vacate the death sentence, and the Mexican government has pleaded for an opportunity to be heard, according to court filings by defense counsel Maurie Levin.
The Mexican consulate this week declined to comment.
The former security guard was arrested for the 1997 slaying of his 15-year-old cousin, Mayra Laguna, whose body was found in a canal after she was abducted by a man who slipped in through the bedroom window.
The case has been plagued by claims of unreliable forensic evidence, conflicting statements and witnesses, concerns about ineffective lawyers, and allegations of a coerced confession.
Yet it was the concerns about treaty violations and international repercussions that pushed the U.S. Department of State to meet in February with Hidalgo County prosecutors. For now, the Nov. 8 execution date still stands.
“It makes us a clear human rights abuser,” said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that has been critical of the administration of the death penalty.
Authorities in Hidalgo County first collared Cardenas hours after the abduction, but did not immediately notify him of his right to talk to his country’s consulate, according to court documents — an apparent oversight that violates Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
A 2004 U.N. World Court ruling known as the Avena case — an issue Babcock argued for Mexico — mandates that foreign nationals who weren’t told of their consular rights are allowed a review to examine whether that oversight influenced the outcome of the criminal case.
And for Cardenas, there’s some chance that it could have. Hidalgo County never told Mexico about the arrest, Levin said. Instead, they found out on their own after five months, long after Cardenas had given multiple, conflicting confessions that Levin argues were coerced.
Repeatedly, Cardenas asked for a lawyer, but authorities ignored his pleas until 11 days after his arrest, instead pushing on in their interrogations without telling him about his consular notification rights, Levin wrote in court filings.
Although the treaty violation could have international repercussions, a 2008 Supreme Court decision deemed it unenforceable, unless Congress takes legislative action — and they haven’t.