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Mexican executed after appeal denied in Texas

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Mexican national Jose Ernesto Medellin has been executed
  • Supreme Court turns down last-ditch appeal
  • Case triggered dispute over federal authority, local sovereignty and foreign treaties
  • His lawyers say Mexican officials weren't able to see him until after his conviction
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From Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Mexican national Jose Ernesto Medellin, whose death penalty conviction in the rape and murder of two teen girls sparked international controversy, was put to death in Texas on Tuesday night, prison officials said.

Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said Medellin died at 9:57 CT.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the last-ditch appeal of a Mexican national on Texas' death row late Tuesday, paving the way for him to be executed for a pair of brutal slayings, state corrections officials said.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said about 9:15 p.m. that the court had turned down the appeal of Jose Ernesto Medellin.

Medellin's capital appeal was an unusual one that pitted President Bush against his home state in a dispute over federal authority, local sovereignty and foreign treaties.

At issue is an international court's ruling that Medellin and about 50 other Mexicans have been illegally denied access to their home country's consul. Allowing travelers such access when they are arrested abroad is common practice.

At about 7 p.m., an hour after the execution could have taken place, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Corrections said the execution was in a "holding pattern."

The high court in March ruled for Texas, allowing the execution to proceed, but Medellin's lawyers filed a flurry of emergency appeals in state and federal courts, requesting a stay. They argued that Congress and the Texas Legislature should be given a chance to pass legislation that would give their client a new hearing before punishment is carried out.

Such a bill is pending in Congress, but no recent action has been taken in either chamber. In an August 1 letter, three Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee urged Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, to postpone executions "in order to provide Congress with the time needed to consider this situation."

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Texas lawmakers will not gather in session until January.

The case centers on whether the state has to give in to a demand by the president that the prisoner be allowed new hearings and sentencing. Bush made that demand reluctantly after an international court concluded Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on American death rows were improperly denied access to their consulate upon arrest, a violation of a treaty signed by the United States decades ago.

Medellin's execution will be the first of what promises to be a busy month at the state's death chamber in Huntsville. Five other men are scheduled to die by lethal injection in the next four weeks, including one on Thursday.

Medellin was 18 when he participated in the June 1993 gang rape and murder of two Harris County girls, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16. He was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to death.

The prisoner's lawyers argued Mexican consular officials were not able to meet with the man until after his conviction.

Thirteen Texas death row inmates from Mexico will be affected by the high court ruling. Only Oklahoma has commuted a capital inmate's sentence to life in prison in response to the international judgment.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the United States had violated the rights of the prisoners, in part because officials and prosecutors failed to notify their home country, from which the men could have received legal and other assistance. Those judges ordered the United States to provide "review and reconsideration" of the convictions and sentences of the Mexican prisoners.

The world court again last month ordered the United States to do everything within its authority to stop Medellin's execution until his case could be further reviewed.

Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the International Court of Justice resolves disputes between nations over treaty obligations. The United States is a signatory to the 1963 Vienna Convention, which lays out rights of people detained in other nations. The appeal the Supreme Court ruled on in March turned on what role each branch of government plays to give force to international treaty obligations.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a 6-3 majority that the international court's judgments cannot be forced upon individual states. The president also cannot "establish binding rules of decision that pre-empt contrary state law," he said, and the treaty itself does not specifically require states to remedy any treaty violations.

The chief justice added that the international court "is not domestic law," thereby restricting the president's power over states. "The executive's narrow and strictly limited authority to settle international claims disputes pursuant to an executive agreement cannot stretch so far as to support the current presidential memorandum" that would force Texas to conduct a new state trial, he wrote.

The Mexican government filed an appeal with the international court against the United States in January 2003, alleging violations of international law. Medellin filed his own federal and state appeals based on similar complaints, as well as a claim of ineffective counsel. Medellin has the support of the European Union and several international human rights groups.

Bush said he disagreed with the international court's conclusions, but agreed to comply with them. In a February 28, 2005, executive order, he said, "The United States will discharge its international obligations ... by having state courts give effect to the decision in accordance with general principles of comity in cases filed by the 51 Mexican nationals addressed in that decision."

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The Bush White House typically backs states in their power to carry out executions, but Justice Department officials said that in these instances, the president's power to conduct foreign policy outweighed states' interests.

The Supreme Court originally heard the Medellin case in 2005 but did not rule on the merits. It waited instead for lower courts to resolve the federalism angle before rehearing the appeal in October.

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