- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003


The Supreme Court refused yesterday to be drawn into an international debate over the legal rights of a Mexican on Oklahoma’s death row.

The court was asked to consider whether American prosecutors are violating a 1963 international treaty when they do not notify foreign governments about death-penalty cases involving citizens of those countries. That issue is being debated internationally.

Justices had been urged to take up that issue in the appeal of Mexican national Osbaldo Torres, known in Mexico as Osbaldo Torres Aguilera, who argued that Oklahoma should not be allowed to put him to death.

The court refused without comment to hear his appeal. Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer went on record noting concerns.

“It surely is reasonable to presume that most foreign nationals are unaware of the provisions of the Vienna Convention (as are, it seems, many local prosecutors),” Justice Stevens wrote.

The treaty says consular officers have the right to be notified and visit any national in prison, custody or detention to arrange for legal representation.

The World Court at The Hague ruled earlier this year that the United States should delay the executions of several men, including Torres, while the court investigates whether the more than 50 Mexican nationals on U.S. death rows were given their right to legal help from the Mexican government.

Justice Breyer said the Supreme Court should not have disposed of the Torres case until the World Court has finished its deliberations.

Torres asked the justices to consider whether he can contest his conviction and sentence because he never was told that he could talk to Mexican consular officials.

Torres was 18 when he was arrested in 1993 in Oklahoma City not far from where a couple were fatally shot in their bed. He had blood on his shirt and was with another man identified by witnesses as the shooter.

Sandra Babcock of Minneapolis, the attorney for the Mexican government, told justices in a filing that when Torres was arrested, he had not finished high school and had no attorney. She said Mexican officials would have liked to help with his legal defense, but they never were contacted at any point in the proceedings, even after his first trial ended in 1995 with a deadlocked jury.

He was convicted of first-degree murder at a second trial in 1996, and Mexican officials were told of his death sentence by his family.

Jennifer Miller, an assistant attorney general for Oklahoma, said the Supreme Court already has rejected one appeal from Torres, in 1999, on other claims. She said this case was not the right one to address the international issue.

In other cases yesterday at the Supreme Court, justices:

• Refused to consider reinstating Oliver French’s conviction in the killing of two persons and wounding of two others at a Michigan automobile plant in 1994. An appeals court ruled that French received inadequate representation in his trial. The case is Jones v. French, No. 03-522.

• Rejected an appeal of an Illinois court ruling that threw out a man’s conviction in the rape and strangulation of two young women in 1978. An appeals court ruled that deceptive interrogation tactics led to Gregory Bowman’s confession. The case is Illinois v. Bowman, No. 03-375.

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