Oklahoma Governor Grants Clemency to Mexican Foreign National

Just days before the scheduled execution of Osvaldo Torres, a Mexican foreign national on Oklahoma’s death row, Governor Brad Henry granted a request for clemency in part because of a recent International Court of Justice decision ordering the United States to review the cases of 51 Mexican foreign nationals on death row because they were denied their right to seek consular assistance following their arrest. Henry’s announcement came just hours after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decided to stay Torres’ execution and order a new hearing in his case. Last week, the Oklahoma Board of Pardon and Parole recommended clemency for Torres. Although Henry has denied three similar recommendations from the Board since taking office, his decision to commute Torres’ sentence to life in prison without parole marks the first time that the Governor has granted clemency to an individual on death row. In his statement, Henry said the International Court of Justice ruling is binding on U.S. courts, and that the U.S. State Department had contacted his office to urge that he give careful consideration to the fact that the U.S. signed the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which ensures access to consular assistance for foreign nationals who are arrested. “The treaty is also important to protecting the rights of American citizens abroad,” Henry noted. In an opinion concurring with the Court of Criminal Appeals majority decision to hear Torres’ claims that he was denied his access to consular assistance and that he was represented by ineffective counsel during trial, Judge Charles Chapel wrote, “I have concluded that there is a possibility a significant miscarriage of justice occurred, as shown by Torres’ claims, specifically that the violation of his Vienna Convention rights contributed to trial counsel’s ineffectiveness, that the jury did not hear significant evidence, and the results of the trial is unreliable.” (The Oklahoman, May 14, 2004) In addition to those on death row in Oklahoma, Mexican foreign nationals that could be affected by the ICJ’s ruling are on death rows in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas. None of these remaining foreign nationals are currently scheduled for execution. See Clemency. See also, Foreign Nationals.