Garza Loses Bids to Avoid Execution


The White House and the Supreme Court on Monday turned down last-minute pleas by lawyers for convicted murderer Juan Raul Garza, clearing the way for his execution this morning at the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Ind.

The 44-year-old drug kingpin, who killed one man, ordered the deaths of two others and was implicated in the slayings of five more, is set to die by lethal injection at 7 a.m. CDT. His execution would be the second in eight days by the federal government, after the June 11 death of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.

With time bearing down on them, Garza's lawyers had moved on two fronts to save his life. They filed two final appeals with the Supreme Court, including a petition that said it was unfair to execute Garza, a Latino, because the federal death penalty is racially biased.

His attorneys also pleaded with the White House to spare Garza on the grounds that his death sentence violated an international treaty on human rights.

The high court, without explanation, denied Garza's requests to delay his execution, and the White House rejected his request for clemency.

Over the weekend, Garza said his goodbyes to his family, who traveled from Brownsville, Texas, to see him one last time. He then was moved to a windowless holding cell in the prison's execution facility.

Garza's lawyers had hoped for some success with the Supreme Court, but lost on both eleventh-hour appeals.

In the first, the attorneys argued that Garza's 1993 jury was not told that it also could sentence him to life in prison with no parole, leaving jurors the impression that any sentence other than death could result in Garza's future release. (A year later, Congress expanded the number of crimes subject to the federal death penalty. The 1994 law also required that juries in capital cases be told they had the option of sentencing a guilty defendant to life in prison with no possibility of release.)

Garza's second appeal to the high court argued his death would violate the extradition treaty that the United States has with the Organization of American States.

Garza was arrested in Mexico and turned over to U.S. authorities at the Gateway International Bridge between Brownsville and Matamoros. An OAS commission later concluded that his human rights were violated because Mexico, which at the time did not know the United States would seek capital punishment, has no death penalty.

Lawyers for Garza also turned their hopes to President Bush. Several clemency petitions were delivered to the White House, along with a videotape that showed Garza begging for mercy and his children tearfully pleading for his life. A final petition was hand-delivered Monday.

"Mr. Garza's imminent execution may have adverse consequences on our future relations with the government of Mexico," his lawyers said. They asked that his execution be delayed or his sentence be commuted to life with no parole.

But the White House said no.

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer noted that the Garza execution already had been delayed once last year, to allow for a Justice Department review of racial bias on death row.

Earlier this month, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said the study determined that there was no racial prejudice in federal capital cases, and Fleischer on Monday noted that 78% of the victims of death row inmates are minorities too.

"From that point of view," he said, "the president views this as a matter of--given the disproportionate makeup of the victims being minority--a way to protect vulnerable communities in America through the delivery of a penalty that is sure and fair, administered fairly."

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