Clemency recommended for death row inmate

Saturday, May 8, 2004

McALESTER, Okla. -- Under pressure from the world court, an Oklahoma board Friday recommended the governor spare the life of a death row inmate from Mexico who claimed he was denied his right to contact his consulate after his arrest. Osbaldo Torres, 29, is slated to be put to death by injection May 18 for the slaying of an Oklahoma City couple during a burglary in 1993. Gov. Brad Henry's office said in a statement that he will "give this case the thorough deliberation it deserves." Torres is one of 51 Mexicans on death row across the country who were cited in a March 31 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands.

The world court said their rights were violated because they were not told they could receive help from their governments as guaranteed by the 1963 Vienna Convention.

Torres is the first Mexican on death row to seek relief under the world court ruling.

In a 3-2 decision, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency.

Susan B. Loving, chairwoman of the board, said Torres' rights under the Vienna Convention were violated. She said the board will let a higher authority determine what bearing the world court ruling has on Torres' case.

"We'll let the governor make this decision," she said.

The Mexican government called on the governor to accept the board's recommendation and grant clemency.

Torres and a second man were convicted in 1996 in the deaths of Francisco Morales and Maria Yanez. The couple were shot as they lay in bed in their home.

Torres' attorneys argued that he and his family were not told they could contact the Mexican consulate. Torres' parents, who illegally crossed from Mexico into the United States in the mid-1980s, saved their earnings from his father's welding job and his mother's cleaning work to pay for their son's defense.

The Torres family contacted the consulate only after Torres had been on death row for nearly a year.

Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza told the pardon and parole board that in addition to Torres' rights being violated, the facts of the case fail to show he committed the murders.

Jennifer Miller, assistant Oklahoma attorney general, acknowledged that Torres' rights under the Vienna Convention were violated. But she contended the violation had no bearing on the outcome of the case and said the execution should go forward.

"He is a killer. He has been found guilty and this is the proper punishment," Miller said.

A group of 10 former diplomats, professors and law school faculty members filed legal briefs in support of Torres' appeal, which is pending before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. The group has urged the court to review the case, saying failure to do so has international repercussions.

Torres' first trial ended when the jury could not reach a verdict. In his second trial, Torres and co-defendant George Ochoa were both found guilty and sentenced to death.

No execution date has been set for Ochoa, who has several appeals pending, including one claiming that he is mentally retarded.

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