HUNTSVILLE, Texas - A Mexican-born condemned killer whose case drew international attention has been executed over the objections of an international court and the Mexican government, which contended he was denied access to legal help from his consulate.
With the parents of his victims watching a few feet away, Jose Medellin apologized before he was executed for his part in a horrific attack on two teenage girls 15 years ago.
"I'm sorry my actions caused you pain," Jose Medellin told the teens' parents late Tuesday. "I hope this brings you the closure that you seek."
Nine minutes later, Medellin was pronounced dead. His execution, the fifth this year in Texas, was delayed for about four hours while the U.S. Supreme Court weighed his appeal.
"It's been a long night," Randy Ertman, whose daughter was killed by Medellin and five other gang members, said after watching the 33-year-old man receive lethal injection.
The appeal to the nation's highest court focused on whether Medellin was denied treaty-guaranteed help from the Mexican consulate when he was arrested.
The court rejected his request for a reprieve, with the majority opinion noting that the Justice Department had not sought the court's intervention.
"Its silence is no surprise," the court said, adding that prosecutors never wavered from their position that Medellin "was not prejudiced by his lack of consular access."
Four justices dissented.
The case attracted attention after the International Court of Justice said Medellin and some 50 other Mexicans on death row around the United States should have new hearings in U.S. courts to determine whether the 1963 Vienna Convention treaty was violated during their arrests.
Texas authorities argued Medellin, who came to the United States when he was 3 and grew up in Houston, never sought Mexican consular protections until four years after he was arrested. By then, he already had been tried for capital murder, convicted and condemned.
Medellin was the first to die among the cases cited by the international court, also known as the World Court.
"It's important to recall this is a case not just about one Mexican national on death row in Texas," one of his lawyers, Sandra Babcock, said after watching him die. "It's also about ordinary Americans who count on the protection of the consulate when they travel abroad to strange lands. It's about the reputation of the United States as a nation that adheres to the rule of law."
President Bush asked states to review the cases, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year neither the president nor the international court could force Texas to wait.
Mexico's Foreign Relations Department said it sent a note of protest to the State Department about Medellin's case.
The statement said officials "were concerned for the precedent that (the execution) may create for the rights of Mexican nationals who may be detained in that country."
In their appeal, Medellin's lawyers warned his execution could endanger Americans abroad if they get into legal trouble and said Congress or the Texas Legislature should be given a chance to pass a law setting up procedures for new hearings before he was executed.
A bill to implement the international court's ruling wasn't introduced in Congress until last month. The Texas Legislature doesn't meet until January.
"State and federal courts — on three separate occasions — have already satisfied the World Court's suggestion that American courts examine whether Medellin suffered actual legal harm when authorities did not inform him about certain rights under the Vienna Convention," said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's Office. "On all three occasions, state and federal courts concluded that Medellin suffered no legal harm."
Elizabeth Pena, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 14, both of Houston, were gang raped, beaten and strangled in June 1993. Their remains were found four days later. The brother of one of the gang members, disgusted to learn about his sibling's involvement in the attack, tipped police, leading to the arrests.
Medellin, who was 18 at the time, was one of five to get the death penalty for the girls' deaths.
One companion, Derrick O'Brien, was executed two years ago. Another, Peter Cantu, described as the ringleader of the group, is awaiting execution but a date has not been set.
"Looking forward every day to that," said Adolfo Pena, Elizabeth's father.
Two others, Efrain Perez and Raul Villarreal, had their death sentences commuted to life in prison when the Supreme Court barred executions for those who were 17 at the time of their crimes.
The sixth person convicted, Medellin's brother, Vernancio, was 14 at the time and is serving a 40-year prison term.
At least six other Mexican nationals have been executed in Texas since 1982, when the state resumed carrying out capital punishment.