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State pardons board rules against reprieve for Mexican national

WASHINGTON -- The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday unanimously recommended against a reprieve for Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national facing execution in Texas on Tuesday for the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston 15 years ago.

The recommendation, approved 7-0, went to Gov. Rick Perry for a final decision on Medellin's fate. Perry is expected to announce his decision on Tuesday, said his spokeswoman, Allison Castle.

The Bush administration, the Mexican government and much of the diplomatic community have warned of an international backlash if the execution goes forward without a hearing on Medellin's claim that he was denied an opportunity to contact the Mexican consulate after his arrest.

At issue is a 1963 international treaty signed by the United States and 165 other countries. The treaty, which created the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, asserts that citizens of any of the participating countries are entitled to contact a consular official "without delay" if they are taken into custody abroad.

President Bush ordered Texas and other states to grant hearings to Medellin and other Mexican nationals facing execution, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in March that Bush overstepped his authority in issuing the order. The ruling demolished the central theme of Medellin's appeals and set the stage for his execution.

The issue of a consular visit also looms large in the case of condemned Arlington killer Heliberto Chi, who is scheduled for execution on Thursday and would be the first inmate from Tarrant County to face death since executions were suspended last year.

Chi is a native of Honduras and was not provided an opportunity to visit with a representative of his homeland after his arrest for the March 2001 killing of an Arlington men's clothing store manager, said his lawyer, Wes Ball of Arlington. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in Fort Worth on Ball's request for the execution date to be set aside.

"Mr. Chi, a Honduran national, is in the same situation as the Mexican nationals in the Avena judgment," Ball wrote in his request for a hearing. "There is no dispute that the Vienna Convention was violated in his case when authorities failed to contact the Honduran consulate. Likewise, he has never received full and proper review of that violation."

Medellin's attorneys had asked for an eight-month reprieve to give Congress or the Texas Legislature enough time to pass legislation allowing state or federal court hearings for Medellin and other Mexican nationals on death rows. The board also rejected the lawyers' request to commute Medellin's punishment to a life sentence.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, are offering bills that authorize hearings at the federal and state level, respectively. But Congress is in recess until early September and the Texas Legislature won't be in session until January 2009.

New York attorney Donald Francis Donovan, who is representing Medellin in behalf of the Mexican government, said he was "deeply disappointed"’ with the board's decision. Other countries, he warned, will have little incentive to abide by the consular access requirements if Medellin is executed without getting a hearing.

"The board's action is against the interests of the nation and risks the safety of Americans traveling and living abroad," he said. Medellin's defense team has also asked the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, warning that carrying out the death sentence against their client will "irreparably violate the nation's treaty obligations."’ But Texas Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott, in an opposing brief, pointed out that the Supreme Court has already turned down Medellin's appeal and urged the justices to reject the inmate's request for a stay. Medellin and other members of a gang called the Black and Whites were sentenced to death for raping and killing Jennifer Lee Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, after the two girls stumbled into a gang initiation while hurrying home from a party.

Witnesses said Medellin later bragged about the assault and described using a shoelace to strangle one of the girls because he didn't have a gun, according to Texas's Supreme Court brief. Medellin, then 19, also "put his foot on her throat because she would not die," the brief said.

The execution is scheduled for sometime after 6 p.m. CDT Tuesday.