Friday, November 30, 2007
High Court Upholds Death Sentence for Mexican National
Alleged Denial of Consular Access Not Prejudicial, Justices Rule
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A convicted killer who is among more than 50 Mexican nationals awaiting execution in the United States whose rights to consular access under international law was denied by police, according to the International Court of Justice, suffered no prejudice as a result and is entitled to no relief from state courts, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The justices unanimously rejected Martin Mendoza’s challenge to his death sentence for the 1996 murders of his two stepchildren and niece. He was also convicted of the attempted murders of his brother-in-law and nephew and two sheriff’s deputies, but the jury deadlocked on a charge that he attempted to murder his son.
Prosecutors said Mendoza followed his wife and family—including his wife’s two children from a previous relationship and the couple’s three children—after they left the family home in Carson City, Nev. and went to her brother’s home in the San Bernardino County community of Landers.
There, he confronted his and his brother-in-law’s families with a semi-automatic handgun during early morning hours as the children were preparing to go to school. Sheriff’s deputies were summoned and a standoff ensued, resulting in an exchange of gunfire before Mendoza was apprehended trying to flee the house.
When deputies entered, they found the victim’s stepdaughter, Sandra Resendes, dead in a pool of blood. Wendy Cervantes, the defendant’s niece, and Eric Resendes, his stepson, had been shot and died before emergency personnel arrived.
Witnesses testified that Mendoza was upset that his wife left him, and that he blamed his 13-year-old stepdaughter. Mendoza had previously been arrested for domestic battery after Sandra said he hit her several times with a belt to punish her for not helping him wash his car. The defendant’s wife, Rocio Cervantes, testified that she left the defendant because Sandra said Mendoza had been molesting her.
Mendoza’s attorney argued that the death sentence should be overturned pursuant to the 2004 Avena decision of the International Court of Justice. The court found that the United States had violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by “failing to inform detained Mexican nationals of their rights” to have consular officer notified of their arrests and “to notify the Mexican consular post of the detention,” and by breaching its obligation “to enable Mexican consular officers to communicate with and have access to their nationals, as well as its obligation...regarding the right of consular officers to visit their detained nationals.”
The court ruled that the United States was subject to the court’s jurisdiction in the matter under an Optional Protocol that both the United States and Mexico had subscribed to. The United States subsequently withdrew from the protocol, but in 2005 President Bush notified the attorney general that the United States would implement the decision through state court review of each of the defendants’ death sentences.
Justice Carlos Moreno, writing for a unanimous court, said that any violation of his rights under the treaty did not prejudice the defendant.
He noted that Mendoza had, in 1997, moved for a new trial based on denial of consular access, and that the motion had been denied on the ground of lack of prejudice. San Bernardino Superior Court Judge James A. Edwards, who denied the motion and imposed the death sentence, was correct, Moreno said.
Moreno cited a letter from the consulate, introduced in support of the new trial motion, asserting that had it been given notice and access to Moreno in custody, the consulate would have made certain that the defendant received timely assistance, in the Spanish language, including advice regarding his legal rights.
The letter did not, the justice explained, contend that Mendoza had been denied such advice, nor did Mendoza claim that the did not receive timely advice of his legal rights in his native language. Thus, Moreno said, if the defendant was denied consular access, it could not have affected his conviction and sentence, based on the record.
Mendoza may, however, seek to establish prejudice by presenting evidence outside the record in a habeas corpus proceeding, Moreno noted.
The case is People v. Mendoza, 07 S.O.S. 6909.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company