A jail cell on death row at the federal penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.

© 2014 Reuters

(April 10, 2014) - Update: Ramiro Hernandez Llanas was lethally injected in Huntsville, Texas yesterday, April 9, 2014 and pronounced dead at 6:28 pm local time.


Just after 6:00pm local time this evening the state of Texas is scheduled, once again, to put a man to death in blatant disregard of his rights.

The man, 44-year-old Ramiro Hernandez Llanas, from Mexico, was convicted in 2000 for capital murder. At the time of his arrest, law enforcement officials failed to inform him 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. "Consular notification," as this requirement is known, is an essential due-process protection, because consular offices can assist with much-needed legal assistance and representation. That’s all the more important when a defendant faces the ultimate punishment.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it's because just two months ago the state of Texas executed another Mexican national, Edgar Tamayo, who hadn't been told of his right to consular notification–over the objections of both the Mexican and US governments.

 Hernandez’s case is particularly poignant because it raises so many other rights concerns. For one: He has presented evidence that he has an intellectual disability, evidence one law professor notes was “overwhelming”. The US Supreme Court has ruled in the 2002 case that it is cruel and unusual punishment to execute someone with such a disability. (The Court is currently considering a case, Hall v. Florida, which may clarify and expand that protection.)

Hernandez has also sought a temporary stay of the execution on the grounds that the state refuses to divulge the name of the company supplying the lethal injection drugs for his execution. His attorneys have pointed to the risk of using an unverified, secret drug in an execution, which could result in excruciating pain. A federal judge granted the stay a week ago, but the Fifth Circuit court of appeals reversed that decision on Monday.

Governor Rick Perry has the authority to delay this execution. Though he may not be moved by arguments around international law, he needs to look no further than the Texas Constitution, and the rights declared within its first article, to justify a delay: a right to due process and a ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Tack on the lack of accountability involved in the state’s refusal to disclose the source of the drugs, rendering it impossible for Hernandez’s defense to even determine whether the particular mix of drugs involved would support a claim for cruel punishment, and that’s not one, not two, but three strikes against human rights.