MSNBC’s Maddow Incorrectly Claims Texas Broke Law in Executing Murderer
On Thursday’s Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, host Maddow devoted a considerable chunk of her show to the story of convicted murderer Humbarto Leal Garcia's execution in Texas, and Republican Governor Rick Perry’s refusal to delay the execution to give Congress more time to pass legislation to address how the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations should be applied to such cases.
Garcia, who in 1994 raped a 16-year-old girl and then strangled her and crushed her skull with a 35-pound piece of asphalt, was sent to prison in 1998 but did not discover until two years later that he was supposed to be legally entitled to ask for help from the Mexican consulate in his defense.
(Note: This article earlier erroneously claimed that the Vienna Convention does not seem to demand that authorities inform a foreign national of the rights contained in the treaty when, in reality, the treaty does contain text making this demand of authorities.)
The MSNBC host dismissed the "conservative" U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that a state could not be forced to adhere to the treaty until Congress passes a law to enforce the treaty, thus giving Congress the responsibility to act.
Appearing on FNC’s Your World with Neil Cavuto on Thursday, Bexar County, Texas, Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg argued: "It is Congress’s job to pass the laws that would enforce this treaty, and Congress has not acted, despite the request of the White House numerous times. This case was delayed for more than a year to give Congress the opportunity to act on the matter, and Congress chose not to act."
Below is a transcript of the Maddow’s introduction to the segment on the case from the Thursday, July 7, Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC:
Today, in Texas and in Washington, the White House and Rick Perry had a political fight to the death in a dramatic down-to-the-wire final hour fight at the Supreme Court over whether or not Rick Perry's Texas would be allowed to kill a foreign citizen who the state of Texas was holding prisoner. The man is a citizen of a foreign country, who was convicted of a murder in Texas. He was never allowed any assistance from his home country.
If you, as an American, are in a foreign country, and you are picked up and arrested, you’re charged with a serious crime, the U.S. government has the right to intervene on your behalf to try to help you out. You don't get immunity if you have done something wrong, of course, but you can at least get help from the United States because you are a United States citizen. That's not only a principle that all Americans implicitly count on if we ever even think about leaving the country, it's also law. Our country signed something called the Vienna Convention that says we expect to be able to help Americans arrested in foreign countries, and we will let foreign citizens arrested here get help from their governments, too. It is an international treaty. We are signed onto it. Congress ratified. It is law.
But not in Texas, not in Rick Perry's Texas. In 2005, the George W. Bush administration ordered states that they needed to comply with this law. Texas, under Rick Perry, said no. The U.S. Supreme Court then weighed in and said the only way to force a state like Texas to follow this law would be for Congress to take action.
And so, with a foreign citizen on death row in Texas, the Obama administration took the very rare step of the federal government wading into a state criminal case. Not over the issue of whether or not the prisoner was innocent or guilty, but over whether or not Texas could kill him without ever letting him get help from his home government.
John Ballinger, a lawyer who served the State Department in the George W. Bush administration, arguing in this case, quote: "It should be obvious to anyone, including officials in Texas, that if Americans, including Texans, are arrested and detained in some other country and the United States complains that they have not been given their consular notice, it will be pointed out to us that the United States does not comply with our own international obligations on this." "It cuts the legs out from under the State Department," he said, "to make arguments on behalf of Americans who are detained abroad."
The White House, the Justice Department, the State Department all weighed in and asked the Supreme Court to intervene, to delay the execution in Texas here for a few months until Congress would have the chance to act on legislation pending that would make Texas follow the law here. But one hour before the prisoner in Texas was scheduled to be killed, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court declined to postpone the execution. It was a 5-4 decision. Governor Rick Perry also could have granted a stay here, a 30-day stay. As of this morning, he said he was undecided on the matter. In the end, he, too, declined to step in. Texas killed Humberto Leal, the man in question in this case, at 7 P.M. Eastern time tonight.