Killer learns new execution date

May 5, 2008 4:02:42 PM PDT
A Mexican-born Texas prisoner whose death sentence set off an international dispute and a U.S. Supreme Court rebuke of the White House received an execution date Monday. State District Judge Caprice Cosper set the Aug. 5 lethal injection for 33-year-old Jose Medellin for his participation in the gang rape and strangulation deaths of two teenage girls 15 years ago in Houston when they stumbled upon a gang initiation rite.

The Supreme Court in March refused to hear Medellin's appeal, saying President Bush overstepped his authority by ordering Texas to reopen his case and the cases of 50 other Mexican nationals condemned for murders in the U.S. Texas refused to comply.

Medellin, handcuffed and wearing a bright lime green jail jumpsuit, stood impassively between his lawyers as Cosper read the order. Lawyers for Medellin and the Mexican government urged her to delay setting the execution date.

"This is a case whose effects go far beyond this courtroom," Medellin's attorney, Sandra Babcock, said.

During Bush's six-year tenure as Texas governor, 152 inmates went to the state's death chamber, the nation's busiest. But the president took the side of Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals on death rows around the U.S. after an international court ruled in 2004 their convictions violated the 1963 Vienna Convention, which provides that people arrested abroad should have access to their home country's consular officials.

The International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, said the Mexican prisoners should have new court hearings to determine wheth failed

to return from a friend's house, had been attacked as they took a shortcut along some railroad tracks and stumbled on a group drinking beer after initiating a new gang member.

Evidence showed the girls were gang raped for more than an hour, then were kicked and beaten before being strangled by a belt or shoelaces.

A tip from the brother of one of the gang members led police to the arrests in the killings that shocked even crime-hardened Houston.

"This guy got to live 15 more years," Adolph Pena, Elizabeth's father, said outside the courtroom. "It is a long time coming."

"I'm looking forward to watching (him) die," said Randy Ertman, Jennifer's father.

One gang member, Derrick Sean O'Brien, was executed in July 2006. O'Brien identified Medellin as the person pulling one end of the belt around Ertman's neck as he yanked on the other. He and Medellin were both 18 at the time.

Peter Cantu, described by authorities as ringleader of the gang, remains on death row without an execution date.

Two other gang members, Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal, had their death sentences commuted to life in prison when the Supreme Court in 2005 barred executions for those who were 17 at the time of their crimes. Medellin's brother, Vernancio, was 14 at the time and received a 40-year prison term.

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