Barring the unexpected, the US state of Texas will execute Mexican national Edgar Arias Tamayo by lethal injection on January 22.
Tamayo, 46, was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of Houston police officer Guy Gaddis. Law enforcement officials failed to inform Tamayo, after his arrest, of his right to contact the Mexican consulate for assistance, as required under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, an international treaty to which the US is a party.
Tamayo’s lawyers, who argue that their client received inadequate legal counsel as a consequence, have asked Texas Governor Rick Perry for a 30-day reprieve of Tamayo's execution and petitioned the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life in prison. And US Secretary of State John Kerry has written to Perry arguing that the execution of Tamayo could harm US-Mexico relations, as well as jeopardize the right of Americans to contact their consular officials if arrested abroad.
These arguments seem unlikely to sway Perry, who has on previous occasions refused to halt the executions of Mexican nationals whose consular rights were denied. Nor is a 2004 judgment by the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' principal judicial body, that the US should review the convictions of Tamayo and 50 other Mexicans in similar cases.
Such an argument might actually even embolden the Texas governor. As the New York Times notes, Perry positions himself as a defender of Texas law against international law. And it's also the case that he has US Supreme Court decisions on his side, notably a 2008 ruling that the Vienna Convention (and other treaties ratified by the US) cannot be enforced in state courts without a specific federal law implementing them.
But Perry should stay Tamayo's execution. The consular notification requirement is an essential due-process protection, because consular offices can assist with much-needed legal assistance and representation. Such protections are never more important than when a defendant faces the ultimate punishment.
Maybe – sadly -- Perry shrewdly recognizes that his decision on Tamayo won’t have the same consequences for a Texan who crosses the Rio Grande and commits a serious crime in Mexico.
That person’s right to consular assistance wouldn’t be a matter of life or death. Showing a keener understanding of the finality, barbarity, and cruelty of capital punishment, Mexico rightly abolished the death penalty nine years ago.