Texas execution sparks international legal debate

Authorities in Texas have carried out the execution of a Mexican man in defiance of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in a case legal analysts say could have implications for U.S. citizens travelling abroad.

Authorities in Texas have carried out the execution of a Mexican man in defiance of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in a case legal analysts said could have implications for U.S. citizens travelling abroad.

Jose Medellin, 33, who was convicted of the rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston in 1993, was executed late Tuesday after he lost his last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I'm sorry my actions caused you pain," Medellin told the teens' parents late Tuesday before being executed by lethal injection in Huntsville. "I hope this brings you the closure that you seek."

Elizabeth Pena, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 14, both of Houston, were gang raped, beaten and strangled in June 1993. Their remains were found four days later.

The brother of one of the gang members, disgusted to learn about his sibling's involvement in the attack, tipped police, leading to the arrest of Medellin and others.

Medellin's appeal to the top court relates to the Vienna Convention, an international treaty the U.S. signed that gives detained foreigners the right to consular help from their government.

The International Court of Justice, known also as the World Court, has argued that never happened in the case of Medellin and some 50 other Mexicans on death row in the United States. 

U.S. President George W. Bush asked the states to review the cases, but the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that neither the president nor the international court could force Texas to wait.

Death row inmate came to U.S. at age 3

Texas authorities argued Medellin, who came to the U.S. when he was three years old and grew up in Houston, never sought Mexican consular protections until four years after he was arrested. By then, he already had been tried for capital murder, convicted and condemned.

But international legal researcher Mark Warren said there are greater issues at stake, and that as a result of the execution, other countries would no longer be obliged to offer Americans the protection laid out in the treaty.

"I think the U.S. is in a very difficult position now because of the obstruction and belligerence of the state of Texas," he said.

But Ted Poe, a Republican congressman from Texas, told CBC News that the case is a matter of sovereignty.

"The Supreme Court has ruled according to our law and constitution that none of those entities have any say as to what takes place in Texas," Poe said.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department said it sent a note of protest to the U.S. State Department about Medellin's case.

The statement said officials "were concerned for the precedent that [the execution] may create for the rights of Mexican nationals who may be detained in that country."

A bill to implement the international court's ruling wasn't introduced in Congress until last month. The Texas legislature doesn't meet until January.

Medellin was one of five to get the death penalty for the killings of Pena and Ertman.

Derrick O'Brien was executed two years ago. Peter Cantu, described as the ringleader of the group, is awaiting execution, but a date has not been set.

With files from the Associated Press