by Diego Cevallos
(IPS) MEXICO CITY-- Mexican Osvaldo Torres had been scheduled for execution next week in the state of Oklahoma, but on Thursday the governor commuted the death sentence in a move the Mexican government and lawmakers see as a victory for diplomacy and reason.
The government is pleased because it had done everything it could to prevent Torres from being put to death by lethal injection on May 18, foreign ministry spokespersons said.
Oklahoma's Gov. Brad Henry commuted the sentence to life in prison for the Mexican who had sat on death row for eight years. The state's Pardon and Parole Board had issued a recommendation Friday to postpone the execution and review the case, which according to the Mexican government and the Torres family was fraught with irregularities.
Adriana Gonzalez, head of the Chamber of Deputies foreign relations committee, said Henry's decision shows that Mexico was able to raise awareness in the United States about the human rights of the more than 50 Mexicans sitting on death row in that country.
According to the Oklahoma appeals court, Torres' case will be reviewed within a period of 60 days.
Having exhausted every legal recourse, the life of Torres, 29, depended on Gov. Henry of the Democratic Party, who also could have postponed the execution -- or done nothing and let it go forward.
The International Court of Justice, in The Hague, ordered the suspension of the execution and a review of the Torres case, but the Oklahoma justice authorities did not recognize the court's jurisdiction in that state.
Torres was tried and sentenced in a state, not federal, court. Despite the fact that international treaties could take precedence over U.S. federal law, Washington cannot necessarily force a state government to heed the ruling of the international court.
Several human rights groups, the Pardon and Parole Board of Oklahoma, and Mexico's President Vicente Fox had pressed the governor to call off the execution.
Torres's defense lawyers and family had argued that not only were the legal proceedings in the case filled with irregularities, the sentence handed down is disproportionate to the crime.
"Only if the (Oklahoma) governor is inhuman will my son die. But we still trust in God and we hope he will be saved from execution," Roberto Torres, Osvaldo's father, told IPS in an interview earlier this week.
An immigrant like tens of thousands of other Mexicans, the elder Torres moved to the United States with his family in search of work and a better life.
"I never thought it would come to something like this. Especially recent days, when life has been passing like a suspense film whose ending could be tragic or joyful," he had told IPS.
The Torres family is celebrating a happy ending, although Osvaldo will remain behind bars for the rest of his life.
He was convicted by the Oklahoma courts of "aiding and abetting" a 1993 double homicide.
The justice authorities admitted that the perpetrator of the murders of María Yáñez, 35, and her husband Francisco Morales, 38, was a friend of Torres, U.S. citizen George Ochoa.
But the investigation alleged that Torres was near the scene of the crime and that he had approved and planned the murders.
Roberto Torres said this week: "We both feel very bad about not having hugged or even touched each other in these last 11 years. It's awful to see one's son and not be able to embrace him, to feel his warmth or to help him."
Throughout his years on death row, Osvaldo was never given permission to have direct contact with his relatives who have visited him.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board's recommendation to Governor Henry for clemency for the Mexican on death row was backed by the Torres legal defense team, the Mexican government, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International.
To step up the pressure on the governor, human rights groups used the Internet to encourage web-users to send e-mails to Henry reminding him of the Parole Board's recommendation and asking him to call off the execution.
In late March, Mexico won a ruling from the International Court of Justice that the United States had violated the rights of 51 Mexicans sentenced to death by failing to allow them to seek assistance from the Mexican consulate when they were arrested and indicted.
"By not informing, without delay upon their detention, the 51 Mexican nationals... of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of Apr. 24 1963, the United States of America breached the obligations incumbent upon it," said the ruling.
The Court ordered reviews to be conducted of all of those cases, including Torres's. But the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office has announced that it would not heed the ruling.
According to court records, the Mexican government was not notified of Torres's arrest and trial until 1996, when he had already been sentenced to death.
The Mexican ambassador to the United States, Carlos de Icaza, says the trial was plagued with irregularities and, furthermore, Torres "didn't commit a crime that justifies the imposition of capital punishment."
"We hold the deep conviction that Mr. Torres's death sentence could be commuted based on legal arguments as well as humanitarian reasons," he said earlier this week.
"Mexico has helped us a great deal, I must admit. I don't have the words to thank the (Fox) government enough," said the inmate's father.
The last execution of a Mexican citizen in the United States occurred in August 2002 in the state of Texas, which borders Mexico.
Javier Suarez, confessed killer of a government anti-narcotics agent, was the fifth Mexican to be put to death since the United States reinstated the maximum penalty in 1976.
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