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Texas executes Mexican national

WASHINGTON -- Jose Ernesto Medellin, whose Death Row appeal provoked an international dispute over U.S. treaty obligations, was executed Tuesday night for his role in the gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston 15 years ago.

The 33-year-old Mexican citizen was pronounced dead at 9:57 p.m.

"I'm sorry my actions caused you pain," Medellin said to witnesses in the death chamber in Huntsville. "I hope this brings you the closure that you seek. Never harbor hate."

Medellin's attorneys exhausted their last hopes for leniency when Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down separate requests for stays of execution.

The execution was scheduled for 6 p.m. but was delayed nearly four hours as the Supreme Court reviewed Medellin’s appeal.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 not to recommend that Perry delay Medellin's execution or commute his sentence.

"After reviewing all of the facts in what is the most gruesome death-penalty case I have reviewed since being in office, I have decided not to grant Jose Medellin a 30-day reprieve," Perry said in announcing his decision.

The case

Medellin and five other members of the gang the Black and Whites were convicted of raping and killing Jennifer Lee Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, after the 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. Medellin, then 19, also "put his foot on her throat because she would not die," according to a state legal brief.

"Today, this day is for Jennifer and Elizabeth. This is not about Jose Medellin," said Andy Kahan, director of the Crime Victims Office for the Houston mayor's office, who was in Huntsville for the execution.

"The sad irony is that Jose Medellin has lived on Death Row longer than Jennifer lived on this planet."

Juries sentenced five of the gang members involved in the murders to death, but two of the sentences were commuted to life in prison.

Medellin's younger brother, Venancio, who was 14 at the time, received 40 years. The first execution was carried out in July 2006 against Derrick Sean O'Brien.

Gang leader Peter Cantu is also awaiting execution, but no date has been set.

International dispute

The case became entangled in international politics during Medellin's appeals process when his attorneys asserted that he was denied his right to contact the Mexican Consulate after his arrest. Under a 1963 treaty signed by the United States and 165 other countries, citizens from any of the participating nations are entitled to contact a consular official "without delay" if arrested overseas.

The International Court of Justice, based in the Netherlands, held that Medellin and other condemned Mexican nationals are entitled to hearings under the treaty.

Bush ordered Texas and other states to grant the hearings, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in March that the president overstepped his authority in issuing the order.

The Supreme Court ruling demolished the central theme of Medellin's appeals and set the stage for his execution. It was unclear Tuesday why there was a delay at the Supreme Court about Medellin's final appeal.

An unlikely cast of legal allies, including the Bush administration and much of the world's diplomatic community, embraced Medellin's position, warning that the United States would be accused of violating the treaty if Medellin was executed without a hearing on his consular-access claim. The case pitted President Bush against his home state of Texas.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General Michael Mukasey had asked the Texas governor "to take the steps necessary" to enable the United States to comply with its treaty obligations. "Put simply, the United States seeks the help of the State of Texas," the two Bush Cabinet members told Perry in a June 17 letter.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City has warned of possible protests to "incite anti-U.S. sentiment" in response to the execution. Texas' insistence on carrying out the death penalty against Medellin would also be seen as "a slap in the face" to the International Court of Justice, said Edward Swaine, an international law specialist at George Washington University.

"Today the United States has stumbled in its commitment to the rule of law," said Medellin's attorney, Donald Francis Donovan of New York.

Final hours

Medellin, who had been confined to Death Row in the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, was transferred to the main prison unit in Huntsville on Monday night to await execution.

He was visited by relatives Tuesday morning, including his mother and father, his grandmothers, and a sister, Lyons said.

He also met with a friend, Sandra Crisp of Houston, who he invited to witness the execution.

Medellin declined a customary last meal, Lyons said. He did not invite a spiritual adviser to his cell but had access to the prison chaplain, Lyons said.