Texas Urged To Stop Mexican National's Execution

In Texas Thursday, Humberto Leal is scheduled to be put to death. Leal was convicted of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in 1994 — but he is a Mexican national and was not informed of his right to notify his embassy or consulate at the time of his arrest. President Obama, the United Nations and others have asked Texas to stay the execution, but the state has refused.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Obama administration is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the planned execution today of a Mexican man convicted of murder in Texas.

Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr. was in the U.S. legally when he was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering a 16-year-old girl in San Antonio back in 1994.

Under international law, Leal should have been told when he was arrested that he had the right to contact his Consulate General. That never happened. Mexico wants Leal's execution put on hold until this case can be reviewed.

NPR's Wade Goodwyn has been covering the story. Good morning.

WADE GOODWYN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, the International Court of Justice has weighed in on this case. The Mexican government and both the Bush and Obama administrations have also asked Texas Governor Rick Perry not to execute Leal until his case can be reviewed. Why is it so important?

GOODWYN: Well, the Leal case is important for several reasons. First, because he'll be executed today if the Supreme Court doesn't stop it. So that immediacy raises the case's profile. Second, Leal is one of 51 Mexican nationals on death row across this country none of whom were informed when they were arrested that they had a right to contact their Consulate General.

And finally, the Mexican government says that Leal was provided lousy counsel by the Texas public defender's office, and that had it know of the charges, the Mexican government would have provided Leal top-flight lawyers and experts, which it believes would have made a big difference in this death penalty case.

MONTAGNE: Would better lawyers have made a difference for him, do you think?

GOODWYN: Well, perhaps. I mean trials are unpredictable. In order to be sentenced to death, Texas had to prove not only that Leal killed Audria Salceda, but that he also raped and kidnapped her.

The girl went to a party on San Antonio's south side, she became extremely intoxicated with alcohol, cocaine and marijuana, and a group of men took advantage of her, took her to the backyard and gang-raped her.

Later, when Leal got to the party that night and heard and found out what had happened, witnesses said he became very upset and wanted to take Salceda home. During that ride home, Leal says Salceda became agitated, she wanted out of the car, they struggled on the side of the road, and as he tried to get her back in the car, he pushed her and Leal claimed she fell and hit her head.

Now, prosecutors say Leal kidnapped Salceda from the party with the intention of raping her, and that he killed her by hitting her on the head with a rock or a piece of asphalt.

There's little question Leal killed her, either intentionally or unintentionally. But there was no DNA evidence that he raped her, and the evidence that he kidnapped her appeared even thinner.

And despite witnesses who said that Salceda had been gang-raped at the party, no one else was charged, just Leal.

MONTAGNE: And so all of that adds up to a capital case and might not have under different circumstances. What happens next? Will Leal be executed today?

GOODWYN: Unless the Supreme Court steps in and stops it, I'm betting yes. Governor Perry's aides have said that the International Court has no jurisdiction in Texas, and that Perry's administration is determined to carry out the death sentence without conducting any review of the case.

MONTAGNE: Wade, thanks very much.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn, speaking to us from Houston about the case of Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr. He is due to be executed today.

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