A Mexican national who became the focus of an international dispute was put to death Thursday by Texas authorities after the Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, refused an urgent appeal from the Obama administration to stop the execution.
Humberto Leal Garcia, 38, was given a lethal injection for the 1994 rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio.
His case drew the attention of the Mexican and U.S. governments because Texas officials failed to notify the Mexican consulate at the time of his arrest and trial, a violation of the Vienna Convention.
Last week, in a rare move, newly confirmed U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. urged the high court to stop the execution, saying it would have “serious repercussions” for U.S. relations with Mexico and the European Union. He said the Senate has before it a bill that, if enacted into law, would give inmates like Leal a chance to have their convictions reviewed.
The issue has been thorny for Mexican and U.S. officials for a decade. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Mexico and held that the United States had failed to comply with the Vienna Convention. The treaty obliges a host nation to inform the consulate of another country when one of its citizens is arrested for a serious crime. Its decision cited 53 Mexican citizens — including Leal — who were on death row in Texas, California and other states.
President George W. Bush tried to implement the ruling, but the Supreme Court said the international court’s decision had no binding effect in this country because Congress had failed to enact a law to enforce the treaty.
Last month, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a bill to enforce the treaty, and the administration argued that the pending execution should be put on hold until the measure could be voted on. Administration lawyers said a failure to abide by the treaty could harm American citizens traveling abroad if they were arrested.
But the court’s conservative majority rejected the request in an unsigned order. “We are doubtful it is ever appropriate to stay a lower-court judgment in light of unenacted legislation. Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be,” the court said.
The decision spoke for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
The court’s four liberal justices dissented. Justice Stephen G. Breyer said it was a mistake to “ignore the appeal of the president in a matter related to foreign affairs.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan agreed, saying they would have halted the execution while the Senate considered the legislation.
Leahy said he was disappointed.
“Americans detained overseas rely on their access to U.S. consulates every day. If we expect other countries to abide by the treaties they join, the United States must also honor its obligations,” he said.
The Mexican government, which had vehemently opposed the execution, said Thursday evening it had filed a formal protest with the State Department for “violation of international law.”
“The Mexican government condemns in the most energetic terms the execution of Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The Mexican government criticized Texas authorities for failing to adhere to decisions by the International Court of Justice and for ignoring entreaties by the Obama administration, and it called on American authorities to respect the rights of Mexican detainees to be allowed access to their consulates.
Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City contributed to this report.